Social Media Security: What Parents Should Worry About

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kelly Colgan

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Predators sexually assaulting children with help from a dating app. Kids bullying other kids online. Pimps luring teenage girls into prostitution on Facebook.

There’s no shortage of cautionary tales about social media risks for children. They’re all over the news. In a recent Harris Interactive poll, more than two-thirds of parents said they had children between the ages of nine and 13 who were active on a social networking site*.

Their top concerns included sexual predators, cyberbullying and a strong desire for a way to monitor their children’s activities online and on mobile phones.

Social networking sites can present risks to children, but parents can help them make the right choices by following these five tips:

1. Keep the computer in plain sight. Make sure the family computer is placed a public area, like the kitchen or family room, so children can’t hide what they’re doing.

Smartphones and laptops can be harder to track, so limit their time on them. Make it known that as the parent you can check their screen anytime, for any reason.

2. Your child’s accounts should be an open book. Make it known that your child needs your permission to join social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. Then make it clear that as a requirement they must hand over their login information and password.

If you think they’ve set up a “parent-friendly” account and are secretly using a second account, check the computers browser history to pinpoint what pages and profiles are getting the most use.

3. Instill the use of proper online etiquette. Have the talk. Make it clear to your children that what they post online is visible to many people—including parents, relatives, friends, teachers, coaches, strangers, and people who have bad intentions.

Even if it’s deleted, it’s usually stored or saved by someone or something, forever. So don’t post anything that’s inappropriate or damaging to their (or your!) reputation.

4. Enable social networking privacy settings. Privacy settings don’t guarantee that your child won’t post appropriate things or that they’re entirely protected, but they can limit the damage if an unfortunate comment or photo is posted.

Learn how to enable privacy settings on social networking sites and make sure they’re implemented on your child’s profile or account.

5. Never post your location or something that can give away your address. New apps reward users for ‘checking-in’ or posting their GPS location. Remind kids that no coupon or reward is worth the risk to their safety.

Always make sure to disable geolocation settings on your child’s phone as many smartphone cameras are factory-set to enable others to view the photo’s location. Make sure they know to never offer personal information to anyone online.

* Source: Harris Interactive online survey of 619 parents of children age 9-14 years, conducted March 21-26, 2012.

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