Five Ways to Help Keep Kids Secure on Social Media
Social media is a double-edged sword – especially when it comes to children and teenagers. On one side, you have some clear benefits; These include the fact that social media provides an easy way for families and groups of friends to stay in touch with each other. Used correctly, youngsters can also make use of social media to stay current on their interests and studies. (If you’re someone who thinks social media is only used for wasting time, just take a look at how many GCSE study groups there are on Facebook!)
But then there’s the other side – which is the darker side of social media that (quite rightly) causes many parents to sound a note of caution. This is where we run into issues like cyber bullying, offensive content and online scams. It’s also fair to list, among the downsides, the possibility of social media becoming an unhealthy and time-consuming obsession for some people.
With all this in mind, this article is all about how to cope with social media as a parent. It introduces some strategies and ideas to help you keep your children safe online, whilst not depriving them from all the opportunities the online world has to offer.
1. Make use of online resources
Ironically, the best place to find advice on keeping your offspring safe online is on the Internet! You may wish to start with this detailed guide to online safety.
The NSPCC NetAware service is a facility worthy of particular note. The charity’s representatives have spent time looking, in depth, at various social media services and online games. They have then produced in-depth guidelines on each, including a recommended minimum age for allowing kids to use the service, and feedback on the experiences of young users. It’s a great resource to consult – as and when your child starts to show an interest in signing up to the latest online trend.
The ultimate online resource for parents, in terms of social media, is personal access to the services themselves. If your children are using Snapchat, for example, the very best thing to do is join Snapchat yourself to gain an understanding of what it does and how people use it. This may be the last thing you want to spend your time doing, but you’ll never understand what your children are up to online unless you ensure you’re familiar with the tools and services they use.
2. Establish ground rules
Banning youngsters from social media isn’t something likely to work out too well. There are internet-enabled devices everywhere, and you can’t keep a 24/7 watch – especially with teenagers. It’s also fair to argue that taking a tough line on social media can mean children feel excluded and miss out on opportunities. (People even use social media to find jobs these days).
The “happy medium” here is establishing ground rules around your children’s use of social media. These can include your children being required to “friend” you on any services they wish to use, set hours where Internet access is allowed in the home, and an understanding that you may check web browsing histories.
There’s no set list of rules that will work for every family; There are many judgement calls to make, and decisions that will depend on individual values.
However, the key objective remains the same: to demonstrate to your children that you are willing to let them use this technology – subject to certain provisos.
3. Maintain constant communication
As children get older, they get exposed to more online dangers, such as exposure to cyberbullying and online hate. Things like “sexting,” and meeting online contacts in real-life are alarmingly common, to the point that if your children aren’t involved, they’re highly likely to know people who are. It’s therefore crucial to maintain an open dialogue – and one that clearly puts across the fact that YOU know about the things that go on online. Fundamentally, you don’t want to land
up in a position where your children know far more about the online world than you do.
4. Get the right software
You may be starting to feel like you need to become an IT expert to keep your children safe online! While “expert” status is perhaps not quite necessary, remaining uneducated about technology does create a risk to your children – so it may be time to brush up on your own computer skills.
Part of this is ensuring you’re using the right software. Good Internet security / antivirus software is a must, and something you’ll need to think about for Android mobile devices as well as computers nowadays.
Parental controls software is also something to investigate. Whether you use the features included with Windows or Mac OS, or buy a dedicated product like Net Nanny, such software goes a long way to improving your child’s online safety.
However, installation of such software will never replace the need for paying personal attention to what your children do online.
5. Use technology to your advantage
Many people are timid of technology. If you’re one of those people, you may feel like you’re being forced to use it for the sake of keeping your children safe!
There’s not a lot you can do about that, but you can turn the situation to your advantage. Messenger apps can help you keep in touch with your children, and things like Apple’s “Find Friends” allow you to track their location.
As we said at the start, there are benefits that go with this technology – so you might as well make use of them while you’re busy mitigating against the risks.