Protect Your Children on Social Media

Over 7.5 million kids under 13 have a Facebook account. Without parental guidance, they're susceptible to bullies, scammers & predators. Are you watching?
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Written by Staff Writer • Posted on May 04, 2015

Social networking can be a lot of fun. Not only does it give kids a place to connect with their friends, it improves their social skills, provides access to educational resources, and offers a creative publishing outlet. Unfortunately, with all the benefits of social media, there are also some inherent risks.

Children who don't use social media sites carefully can be the targets of online predators and scams. They can also showcase foolish behavior (photos, videos, comments, etc.) that becomes part of a digital trail which follows them indefinitely.

Let's use Facebook as an example. According to its Terms of Service, a person must be at least 13 years old to have a Facebook account. However, according to a 2011 Consumer Report, at least 7.5 million kids under the age of 13 have a Facebook account in the United States. No matter your child's age, it is important that you--the adult--prescribe basic rules in order to keep them safe.

Rule #1: Check your children's privacy settings.

Facebook privacy settings determine who can see your children's Facebook activity. The default setting is "Public," which means everyone in the world. The first thing you want to do is to change that setting so any posts or photos are only visible to "Friends." To access the Privacy Settings, click the down arrow in the upper-right corner of any Facebook page. Select Settings from the dropdown menu and then click on Privacy.

While you're in the Privacy Settings, you can also turn off third-party permissions (to prevent apps and other programs from accessing the account) and geotagging (which shares your child's current location). If you want to go one step further, you can prohibit anyone from finding your child's profile by changing search visibility from "Public" to "Only Friends."

Tip: Facebook updates its site fairly regularly, which often resets all privacy settings to their default states. Make sure you routinely check your child's privacy settings to ensure your preferences are still intact.

Rule #2: Know your children's login information.

It's important for young children to know that you will actively monitor their social media accounts. The first step is to have your own Facebook account and add your children as Friends. While this will show you most normal activity, it doesn't let you see where most problems originate. That's why the second step is to know their login information. This way, you can log in to review their friend requests and instant messages.

There are several software tools designed to help you monitor your children's social media accounts. Social Shield flags posts, photos and friends that might cause issues for kids. MinorMonitor is a free web-based tool that gives parents a quick, easy view into their child's Facebook activities and friends. SocialScout is an online "Parental Intelligence System" that helps you analyze your child's social networking and mobile phone activity. All of these services can help you protect your children from bullies, scammers and predators.

Make sure you talk to your children regularly about the experiences they have online. Let them know that they should immediately tell you about any suspicious activity or people who make them uncomfortable.

Rule #3: Explain that digital posts are permanent.

Have a frank and honest family conversation about Internet safety and about what should and should not be shared on social media. Communicate that Facebook is not the place to post everything. Personal information, compromising photos and hurtful comments should never be posted online. Teach them that information published online can be permanent, and once it is posted, it no longer belongs to them. Things can get out of hand extremely quickly online, with videos, photos and posts going viral within hours. The safest rule of thumb is never to post anything online that you wouldn't be comfortable with the whole world seeing--because it is possible that the whole world might be given access.

Of course, children make mistakes. Sometimes, they might post something that they shouldn't. That's why it's vital that your children feel comfortable coming to you whenever they have a problem with material that has been posted online.

When it comes to kids on social media, no prevention is better than the parents taking an active role by communicating with, monitoring and educating their children. Following these three rules will help your children have a fun and safe experience and help create an online world that is pleasant for all.