Online crimes are on the rise. Social media is a dangerous place for children. While you want your children to have their freedom and connect with their friends, it’s important to follow social media safety tips.
You don’t need to keep children off social media completely. I don’t allow my children on social media just yet, but they’re four and eight. There’s no need for them to ask for social media just yet. In fact, my eight-year-old asked me what Twitter was the other day because I was on it for work. That’s the first she’s heard of it! Everything else is controlled by me, including Zoom and Google Hangouts to meet with friends.
But as they get older, they’re going to want social media. And I get it. I’m on social media, so it is hypocritical for me to say no. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep them safe.
After years of working within social media, I’ve seen the flaws. After years of writing about the dangers of social media for children, I’ve got a selection of social media safety tips that I’m going to follow. They may not work out, but they’re a start.
Treat the internet as it is: a big empty space
The first thing you need to remember is that the internet is a large place. It’s an empty space.
You wouldn’t let your young kids run off in the middle of a shopping center, right? You know about the dangers lurking around the corners. If you’ve been in a situation like me where a child has gone missing, you know how terrifying it is and your mind thinks of every little thing that could have happened no matter how implausible.
The internet is like that. It’s a wide space with people pretending to be who they’re not. Even those who are who they say they are will perceive themselves as something/someone different.
It’s important to respect the vastness of the internet. Your children need to respect that, too.
Before you even start, sit your children down so they understand the dangers of the internet. You don’t need to go into a lot of detail, but go through some of the dangers like you would when outside. I’ve told my four-year-old about the dangers of the road, why wouldn’t I tell a 10-year-old about the dangers of bad people online?
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Have a set of rules for social media safety
Go in with some ground rules. My children know right now that when there’s something new, there are ground rules that they must abide by. If they don’t, then the thing they’re doing is taken away from them.
For example, we got a Nintendo Switch. They know they’re only allowed on it at set times of the day, they need to ask for permission, and they can only play particular games that we have. The same applies to the Xbox.
I’ll be implementing ground rules for social media. They’ll likely involve me checking on their profiles at the end of the day or even at points during the day when they don’t know. That way, they can’t delete their messages in time for me to check them and I can make sure they’re only talking to people they’re meant to.
Another rule will be to ask permission about friend requests. I get enough weird friend requests on Facebook all the time. I’m not going to accept them because I don’t know them, and I want my daughters to learn the same.
Keep the conversation open with your children
One of the biggest things I’ve learned while being a parent is communication is key. And I’ve seen it from the other side. As a child, I was able to talk to my mom when there was a problem. I knew she’d listen and believe me. I also knew she’d respect my thoughts and feelings, while also finding a way to help. She wouldn’t always let me do what I wanted, but I appreciated the ability to communicate.
That’s something I’ll do for my daughters, especially when it comes to social media safety.
If there’s a cyberbully, I want to know about it. I need to know so I can help. It could be blocking that person or it could involve coming off social media completely. Or it may be to help with growing the skills not to let that person affect my daughters mentally, because I know exactly what cyberbullying is like.
The same applies to a friend request they may have accepted that has turned out dangerous. Something I’ve always said to my husband is that I want my daughters to know they can come to us if they’ve made a mistake. For example, if they’re at a party and the designated driver is no longer able to drive, I want them to know they can call for help. It doesn’t matter what time. They won’t get in trouble. The same applies to social media.
Okay, there will be a conversation about accepting the friend request, but if they’re older, I may no longer have that rule in place about coming to me first. What I want them to know is that if something seems dangerous, scary, or strange, they can ask for help and not hide in fear and go through with whatever they’ve been told.
If they don’t tell me, I don’t know how to help. So, communication being open is key.
Look out for regression or signs of problems
No matter how safe you make the environment, some children aren’t going to talk. They may worry they’ll get in trouble or that you won’t understand. It’s important as a parent that you look out for signs that something isn’t right.
One of the signs of problems on social media is regression or depression. Children will see these “perfect” lives that they don’t have. It’s important you spot the signs so you can explain that lives online are not the same as lives in life. Those people posting the “perfect” shots won’t have those perfect lives.
You’ll want to look out for signs that they’re being controlled by someone online. Or signs that they could be bullied. You’d look out for these signs in real life, so why not when it comes to social media safety.
I’m already looking out for them. At one point, my eight-year-old was upset about something at school. She wouldn’t talk to me at first, but I gave her time and patience and eventually she shared what it was. She wondered how I knew something was wrong. I just know my kid!
Keep the profile private as much as possible
Most social media profiles will allow you to lock down the private. Instagram and Twitter make it possible to create private accounts. Facebook allows you to lock down privacy somewhat, but it’s not perfect. I’m not sure about all the others, but if my kids wanted to use them, I’d be looking into them!
The idea is that your children can send some friend requests. They can follow their friends from school and their family members they want. However, those they don’t allow access to their profiles can’t see anything. This can help to prevent bullies from school attacking or keep the online predators out of your child’s life.
You’ll also want to have a conversation about the things they say online and photos they post. Nothing on the internet is really deleted.
What social media safety tips do you have for parents? What are you doing with your kids? Share in the comments below.