Shepherding a Child’s Heart in a Social Media World
When it comes to social media, protecting your kids can be a daunting task.
While you want your kids to be able to communicate and have access to a wealth of information through social media, you probably also want to protect them from the downsides of social media—cyber bullying, access to inappropriate content, and vulnerability to criminal activity.
And even if you think you’re pretty good at keeping tabs on your children’s online activity, according to Guard Child, 67% of teens know how to hide their online activity from their parents. I know, it’s pretty scary, right?
So, what can you do to ensure that your children aren’t hiding what they do online and potentially putting themselves at risk?
Here are some useful tips that I use with my daughters.
Set Age and Time Limits
No child needs to be on social media all the time—that’s just asking for trouble.
In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than 18 months shouldn’t use media of any kind—with the exception of video chatting platforms such as Skype or FaceTime to connect with grandparents, of course!
Some social networking sites even have stipulated age limits. For example, did you know that anyone under the age of 13 isn’t allowed to have a Facebook account? Do your homework to find out which sites are age appropriate for your kids and keep them off the ones that aren’t intended for their age group.
Take it a step further and set time limits for their online activity. Have you ever thought, “I’ll just catch up on Facebook for 10 minutes,” and then found yourself online an hour later? With kids’ curiosity, it’s easy for them to get caught up checking things on the web. Setting time limits will reduce the risk of your children getting pulled into things they shouldn’t be doing in the first place.
Supervise and Get Full Access
In this day and age, it’s not nosy to have access to your children’s social media accounts—it’s smart.
Ensure that you have the correct passwords for your children’s accounts. There are unique benefits to being able to view their accounts from their perspective, rather than just checking on their profile through your own account. By doing random check-ins you can find out who your children are following, what content they’re seeing on their personalized feeds, and who they’re communicating with privately.
You may be able to put a stop to cyber-bullying by checking for any mistreatment of or by your children. You can also keep your children from falling victim to social media predators who actively seek out young children.
As your kids get older and become more aware of online threats, you may not need to check their accounts as often. However, especially with young kids, frequent monitoring is a smart tactic to keep them safe.
Encourage Private Accounts
Your kids don’t need to share their information with the entire world. So, ensure that your children’s social media accounts are set to private, not public.
Do this by checking their privacy settings on individual social media platforms. This will hide your kid’s information from strangers on the internet, even pictures or posts that they’re tagged in by other people.
Privacy settings are not foolproof, however, so you may want to install filtering software on your web browser that will protect your children—and your device—from various invasive viruses and spyware.
Let Your Children Know What to Share
Children, in their naivety, usually see nothing wrong with sharing every detail of their lives—from what they’re wearing and eating to their location and activities at any given time.
However, sharing information such as your location or personal details online gives other people a lot of access to you. Depending on who sees this information, it can actually put your safety at risk—no matter your age. Even Kim Kardashian was a victim of criminals who targeted her using information from her Instagram account to determine her location and activities.
Make sure to monitor the pictures, posts, and location tags your children share to see if they’re appropriate and set clear rules about what information they can and cannot share online.
Keep the Conversation Going
Before establishing rules about social media for your kids, it’s important to have a frank conversation with them about the dangers of the online world and why you’re setting rules in the first place. An honest and open conversation will help them understand why you’re concerned and will better equip them to handle things without you.
Just as you would teach your kids about dangers in the real world, teach them about the dangers of social media.
Remember that the rules you establish should work for you and your family. Consider the age and maturity of your children—what you enforce with a 12-year-old will likely be very different from what you would with a 16-year-old. As they mature you may have to revisit and adjust the boundaries you’ve set for them.
No matter their age, it’s important to encourage your children to be open with you about what goes on with their social media, both the good and the bad. Honestly, it’s difficult to monitor every single thing they do online, so the more comfortable they feel being open with you, the more easily you can protect them from online dangers.