Social Media and Online Predators: How to Help Your Children Protect Themselves Online
Your child is online using social media, and you kind of feel like a spy. Well, you aren’t exactly alone. Roughly 60 percent of parents check their teen’s social media profiles, according to the Pew Research Center. Think of it as high-tech snooping! Okay, so you can’t watch over your child’s shoulder 24-7. Beyond that, you need to make sure that at some point you can actually trust your kiddo to go online in an entirely responsible way. How can you ensure that your child is protecting themselves against social media and online predators? Check out these tips for helping your child to understand what a predator is, how they work and what to do about them.
The first step to helping your child to help herself is setting rules. These provide a framework for safe online/social media use and help your child to know what to look for. The specific rules you set depend on what you feel is necessary and appropriate. Along with your ideas, you also want to offer up guidelines that outline how to stay safe. These include rules that govern what information your child is allowed to post about herself. Is she allowed to use both her first and last names on her profile page? Can she add her birthday, her location or school? These are all identifiers that make it easier for online predators to access and approach your child.
Review friends lists
Who is your child interacting with online? You could get her password and sneak a peek at who she’s friends with. Or, you could ask. Ask to scan your child’s friends. If she says absolutely not, ask why (either she sees it as a major invasion of her privacy or she’s hiding something). This doesn’t mean you’re going to read through her account or posts. You just want to look for so-called friends that stand out as fakes. Keep in mind, you want to review friends with your child – and not on your own. This lets your child see your thought process and gives you the chance to show her how to look for possible predators.
Give examples, and then some more examples
Does your child know what an online predator looks like? Maybe. Or, maybe your child thinks that predatory adults are obvious, extremely noticeable or clearly fakes. You know that predators are super-sneaky. They have accounts that look real (complete with photos and other ‘kid friends’). Explain in detail what a predator may look like or seem like, cautioning your child to be skeptical when it comes to new friends or people online who seem overly eager (whether that’s overly eager to be friends, to develop a romance or to gain access to personal information). If you’re not getting through to your child, the media is filled with examples and cautionary tales. Watch a show such as MTV’s Catfish with your child to help her truly see what a predator looks like and can do.
Watch while online
Your child is just starting to learn the in’s and out’s of being online. Think of social media use as a graduated program – such as the graduated driver’s license programs (where teens are progressively given more independence). When your child creates her first profile, sit with her and watch. While you don’t have to sit next to her every time that she’s online, stay in the same room (at least, for now). As she demonstrates that she’s following your rules and is using social media safely, you can progressively step back and let her take more control. That doesn’t mean she gets to fly completely solo. But, you don’t have to stand over her forever. You need to know that she can independently monitor herself and use good judgment.
Ask for passwords
Sneaking or stealing your child’s passwords? That’s not okay. Asking for them? Sure, that’s responsible. Almost half of parents have their kids’ email passwords and 35 percent know their child’s social media passwords, notes the Pew Research Center. Not only does this give you access to your child’s accounts (should you need it), but it may make her more aware of what she’s doing online. If mom or dad can take a look at her private messages on Facebook, she may think twice before she friends that 22-year-old college student.