Social media opens up the world for kids and teenagers — and a can of worms for parents. By now, cyberbullying, screen time, and reputation damage are serious concerns etched into the brains of moms and dads everywhere. Add predators to the (digital) list, and it's amazing parents are still keeping it together. But this is why drawing clear boundaries around media use can help you live with a little less fear. After reaching out to experts, Romper learned that there are certain things you should never let your kid post on social media, and you've probably never considered some of them. It's impossible to monitor a child's every online communication, but having conversations about cybersecurity early and often can help kids negotiate the hyper-social universe that, quite honestly, overwhelms many adults.
Recently, Parents published a story about a teenager's Facebook update that cost the family $80,000. That's just one example of the potential harm a handful of words, carelessly tossed into the ether, can do. Harvard's rescinding the admission of 10 students over offensive social media posts, as NPR reported, is another. But dangers of a greater magnitude also lurk inside bits and bytes — just last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) gave parents a chilling reminder that child predators use Facebook, too.
So how can you can keep your kids safe in an online world that feels private, but is, in fact, as public as it gets?
Did you know that smartphones record your location in metadata, and that this metadata is available to anyone on the receiving end of a photograph taken from that phone?
Paul Grattan, Jr., a sergeant with the New York Police Department (NYPD) and author of the blog One Police Project, tells Romper that parents should check the privacy settings on all devices their kids are using, because "information embedded within the photo can reveal a child's recent location, home address, or travel patterns," and no one beyond close friends and family should be able to track your kid.
Here's how to quickly disable GPS features on your iPhone, according to OSXDaily. Remember to check the privacy settings again after a software update.
You tell your kids not to talk to strangers IRL. You also tell them never to give strangers information about their daily schedule — or yours. So explain to your child they shouldn't advertise the fact that they're currently on vacation (leaving the house empty, except maybe for Kevin), or that they're home alone all afternoon on Twitter, either.
But what's the point of Facebook if you can't share those pics of your ski trip in Vermont?
"A simple tip is to prohibit social media postings while away on vacation, but allow kids to share ... vacation highlights upon returning home," explains Grattan.
Another idea is to select a code word to communicate with close friends. 'Loving Vermont so much rt now' becomes 'Loving My Backyard' instead. Picking out a few other code words for home and school would probably be a lot of fun.
Of course, parents want their kids to celebrate their successes — like their driver's license, or a straight-A report card — and share that success with friends. But according to Grattan, it's not a good idea to post pictures of any documents that contain your home address or other identifying details.
He does note that enforcing this is really hard, and no wonder. After all, kids are thinking of their real life social circle and not potential threats to their safety, when they post a picture of their college acceptance letter with their address tucked into the corner of the page. That's exactly why you have to create an ongoing dialogue around what the internet actually is — a public forum, not a private gathering place.
"As parents, we can each likely do more to keep our children from publicly sharing details of our own personal information, like their mom's or dad's name, but we must be reasonable and realistic," notes Grattan. "Full prevention here is an uphill battle — so I advise parents to worry more about who the information is shared with, rather than what information is shared."
Limit young kids to social media designed for children, which has more safeguards for youngsters than Twitter or Snapchat, for instance. You can also set privacy settings on social media apps so that kids are only sharing information with a small circle of friends.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that if you can Google how to turn privacy settings on, your older kids can also Google how to turn them off. Eventually, it all comes back to trust — the best way to keep your kids safe on the internet is to keep an open dialogue about what it means to behave well in public. While you should still monitor your kids, especially if they're younger, you don't have to worry so much about what might be slipping under your radar if you know your children understand the boundaries you've drawn.
"Kids should be proud of their interests and accomplishments, and sharing on social media is a natural outlet for that," according to Grattan. "However, it pays to consistently make them aware that details of their lives like hobbies, extracurricular activities, pop culture preferences, and sports affiliations can be used by predators to gain their confidence or friendship."
It's a scary thought, but some pretty bad people do use the internet to find potential targets, according to the FBI.
While it may be impossible to teach your kids not to post anything that reveals how much they love skateboarding, for example (because they really, really love it), you can warn them that strangers may use that detail to try to insinuate themselves into their lives. Which is why you should make it clear that responding to strangers isn't a good idea.
Additionally, if a stranger contacts them, let them know they can come to you. "Children should be commended for reporting messages and other inquiries from people they do not know and trust," says Grattan.
Kids have phases, and kids make mistakes — it's practically in their job description. Human beings will let bygones be bygones, but unfortunately, the internet never forgets. Time reported on how social media got 10 kids kicked out of college, and Scientific American explained how a seemingly harmless bit of braggadocio (caught on video) hurt a young man's chances of employment, possibly for life.
Here's Grattan's take:
"It is important to instill in children that the way they are depicted in photos, and overall use of social media, has even wider implications. Parents and kids must keep in mind that impressions are made with social media that can affect their future schooling, employment opportunities, college goals, and scholarship opportunities — among other things."
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