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Helping Your Teen Stay Safe on Social Media


December 5, 2013

Simple strategies to protect your child's reputation, future and physical well-being

By: Kyrie Collins
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stock.xchng photo/Dave Di Biase
We are the first generation of parents raising our children in a global, digital world. For the most part, social media is a fun and safe way for people of all ages to stay connected with friends and family. There are, however, some hazards to being online that we parents must consider to keep our teens safe.

How do we help our kids navigate through uncharted territory?

Approximately 94% of teens who use social media have a Facebook profile, 26% are on Twitter, and 11% are on Instagram. Both Twitter and Instagram are rapidly increasing the number of teen users.

According to a Teens, Social Media, and Privacy report published by Pew Internet in May 2013, teens are sharing more information than they did when Pew Internet last surveyed in 2006. Some of the key findings are:
  • 91% post a photo of themselves (up from 79%)
  • 71% post their school name (up from 49%)
  • 71% post the city or town where they live (up from 61%)
  • 53% post their email address (up from 29%)
  • 20% post their cell phone number (up from 2%)
Perhaps most troubling is that only 60% of teen Facebook users set their profiles to private (friends only). These statistics show that teens are at risk of falling victim to identity theft, a damaged reputation, cyberbullying, and online predators.

You can help your child mitigate potential damages.

Be knowledgeable. If you don't already have a Facebook profile, get one so you are familiar with how it works. Consider doing the same with Twitter, Instagram, or any social media your teen wants to join. Educate yourself about cyberbullying, how to prevent it, and how to deal with it when it happens. Learn the most commonly used text and chat acronyms. Read about Facebook use and teen depression.

Establish some house rules.
I don't personally believe in banning social media since I think most teens will just participate behind their parents' backs, but I do see it is a privilege that can be restricted. Make a list of rules that must be followed. Have your teen sign an Internet and Mobile Safety Pledge.

Talk about bigger consequences. The Internet never forgets. A photo that your teen thinks is funny now could become a roadblock later to college acceptance or a dream job. Remind your child that the Internet is not a kids-only zone. Spend time on the computer with your child and discuss age-appropriate posts and pictures. Do not use scare tactics; they don't work. Just have an age-appropriate discussion and maintain open communication.

Protect personal information. Set social media privacy settings to the highest levels. Not only can you restrict online visibility to friends, but you can also request to be notified when friends "tag" photos or mention you in a post. Check the privacy settings regularly, as Facebook and other social media change the rules often without sending out any notification of the changes. Do not post phone numbers or email addresses on the profile page; real friends likely have that information already and anyone who doesn't can send a Facebook message.

Use nondescript user names. Sadly, there are pedophiles and predators trolling the Internet looking for a victim. Which user name do you think will get a bad guy's attention: cutegrl1998 or alm1000?

Stay calm if there's a problem.
Can you hear yourself saying, "I knew something like this would happen! This is why I didn't want you on Facebook in the first place!" I know I can. But if I respond like that, my child isn't going to come to me for help. I want to be my sons' safe haven so I can be their advocate, which means I have to stay as open-minded, non-judgmental, and calm as possible.