Technology has become an absolutely essential part of our day-to-day lives (especially during COVID-19), but it’s also abundantly clear that technology, and social media specifically, can be a double-edged sword. While connecting with long-distance family and friends is a wonderful gift of the modern day, social media has also, horrifyingly, become a home to predators. Here are some of our best tips for staying safe on social media, for parents and kids alike.
Communicate openly in your family (and keep the lines of communication open).
Talking about online predators is not exactly a warm and fuzzy mealtime conversation, but it’s such an important one to have. As soon as your children know what the Internet is – and definitely by the time they have their own personal social media accounts – they should know that these predators exist. Tell them about real cases from the news, and remind them how easily it can happen to even the smartest people. Remind them often that they can talk to you about this topic without fearing shame or judgment.
When it comes to sharing personal information, less is always more.
In 2020, most people know it’s not smart to share things like your address or bank information on social media. However, it’s possible (and sometimes easy!) to overshare without thinking twice. Maybe your teen posted a map of their running route to show off a particularly fast pace, or you accidentally revealed your house number in a front porch photo. Maybe your middle schooler shared their cell phone number with a friend not realizing it was public, or detailed their weekend plans in hyper-specific detail. As a family, go over the importance of keeping personal details offline, and hold each other accountable.
Tighten those security settings.
Security settings exist for a reason, and they should be embraced. Whenever you or your child set up a new account, head to the security/privacy page and set everything to the strictest setting available. For most social media platforms, this typically means that unapproved people cannot see anything, aside from a profile picture and username. To ensure that every family member’s page is sufficiently secure, you can unfriend them (temporarily) and see exactly what you can access as a non-friend/non-follower.
Only accept friend, follower, and chat requests from people you know in real life.
This tip is so important. Predators will usually follow, friend, or chat up their potential victims, often posing as someone their same age. After all, getting a message from a cute peer who goes to the high school one town over probably wouldn’t set off any major alarm bells to your child. Set a blanket, household rule that if you do not know that person in real life, their friend requests, follower requests, and chats will be rejected 100% of the time.
Never share your location in real time.
It might be tempting to “check in” to a trendy restaurant on Facebook or share vacation photos as you’re snapping them, but that also makes you and your empty house easy targets for bad people. Never share your current location on Facebook, and set the same rule for everyone in your family. Additionally, make sure that your “routines” aren’t obvious online either; no one should be able to learn that your high schooler has soccer games every Wednesday night, or you visit your in-laws out of state every Christmas.
Don’t be afraid to block and unfriend.
If someone gives you the creeps, for whatever reason, don’t feel bad blocking them or deleting them from your friends list. Maybe they’re messaging you daily and you aren’t quite sure why. Maybe they’ve asked you a few personal questions that make you feel violated. Maybe you accepted them as a friend a while ago, and realized you actually don’t know them after all. Whatever the reason, don’t worry about looking rude and simply delete or block. Always remember that access to your page is a privilege, and you’re entitled to edit who can see your posts.
Have a “required parental friendship” social media rule.
When Facebook first became a “thing” when I was in high school (back in the olden days!) the thought of my mom having her own account was bizarre. Even more bizarre was the thought of being friends with her! Fast-forward to 2020, and parents should both have accounts and make social media friendship a house rule. This is the easiest way to keep an eye on everything being posted – though it doesn’t take the place of regular Internet safety chats and check-ins. If your teen refuses… well, they’re probably posting something they shouldn’t be.
For many of us, the Internet has become like a second home. It can be scarily easy to get lax about Internet safety, and to simply trust that everyone is making smart decisions. Talk to your kids honestly – and often! – about the very real dangers of online predators, and make these safety habits second nature in your household.
Stay tuned for next week’s post about the biggest social media red flags and warning signs!