By Wendy Rice, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist
As parents, the wellbeing and safety of your children is your first and foremost concern. You keep up with what they are doing, what their grades are, who their friends are, and where they go. But have you considered what they are doing and who they are interacting with on social media?
Social media is the new hangout for children. It is where a majority of their socializing takes place: they set up profiles to present themselves, describe their interests, seek approval from others, post photos, and share thoughts and feelings.
For children, however, free rein in the social media world is not a good idea. Even if your child is in your home, while they are on social media they are susceptible to online child predators, cyber bullying, and more.
- Monitor social media activity – Just as in most aspects of children’s lives, supervision is key. Without it, children are given the ability to observe, say, do and interact in any way with any and everyone, including predators and bullies. Even if you’ve gone through the dos’ and don’ts of social media and have warned your children of the dangers, physically monitoring their social media sites will provide your children with an extra layer of protection. As an adult, you may recognize suspicious activity or behavior before your child would.
- Keep an open dialogue – Talking to your children about social media, and about its potential dangers is a great first step. Make sure they know who is appropriate to interact with, what kind of information is appropriate to share, and what type of information and activity from other users should send up a red flag.Below are measures you can take as parents to safe guard and prevent your children from falling victim to some of the dangers associated with social media.
- Set up the correct privacy settings – Each social media platform has privacy settings, and using these settings is a good practice for anyone, but especially for children. Make sure their accounts aren’t viewable to the general public, and only friends (for Facebook) or approved followers (for Twitter and Instagram) can see their posts and activity.
- Go through your child’s friend list – Even if this seems excessive, some parents may be surprised who their children are “friends” with. Children are a lot less likely to understand that strangers sending them friend requests could be online predators. By simply “accepting” a stranger’s friend request, your child can be granting a predator access to their personal photos, contact information, and other personal information such as where they attend school, what activities they are involved in and even where they live.
- Make sure you have ALL login information – Make sure you can directly log into your child’s social media account. There are activities you will not be able to see if you are viewing their profile from your own social media login. Additionally, many children are active on multiple social media platforms. Make sure you are given direct access to each of their accounts.
- Limit the time spent on social media and the internet – As the parent, you determine your child’s limits and you set the rules, including the internet rules. Make it clear to your children that social media is a privilege, not a right. Many children feel entitled to internet use, and that a social media profile like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is their right. Set parameters around when they can access their accounts and how long they spend logged in. Doing so can prevent them from over-sharing or over-interacting with the wrong people.