Do you remember that phrase from your own childhood?
Although our children seem to be wandering the streets less and less, it is still a valid question. Except, now, it comes with a twist:
“Do you know where your kids are and who they’re talking to online?”
Social networking sites allow and encourage people to exchange information about themselves in profiles and journals, in message boards and chat rooms and through email and instant messaging.
Suddenly, our children are able to communicate with the world at large.
Unfortunately, while social networking sites such as Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok can increase a child’s circle of friends, they also can increase exposure to people who have less than friendly intentions.
The Reality of Internet Dangers
In today’s world, there is a large population of minors connected to a large network of people from around the world.
That seems to spell danger for our kids, right?
The reality is that the majority of children manage to steer clear of dangerous predators.
However, this doesn’t mean that children are not at risk of becoming victims of online stalkers. It simply means that we don’t have to monitor their online activity like prison guards.
Instead, we need to educate our children about these potential dangers and give them the tools to make the right decisions.
Here are some ways you can protect your children, and help them protect themselves, when accessing social networks:
Keep Devices in Open Areas
Whether your child uses a computer, cell phone or tablet, try to keep these devices in an open area such as the living room or kitchen.
While you don’t want to be peering over their shoulders or breathing down their necks, you want them in an area where you can keep an eye on where your kids are going online and what they are doing.
Use the Internet With Your Kids
Be open to learning about technology so you can keep up with your little ones. By learning side by side with them, you will create a sense of understanding and trust.
Look into their favorite sites and have a discussion about their social network profiles so you can set sensible guidelines.
Talk to Your Kids About Their Online Habits
If your kids use social networking sites, tell them why it’s important to keep information such as their name, address, phone number and age to themselves.
Not only does this place them and your family at risk for scams, it also creates an opportunity for individuals of any age to locate them and cause trouble.
If your child insists on having a social media profile, encourage them to only use their first name. The last name can be set as their favorite color or some other innocent signifier.
Talk About the Information They Are Posting
Your kids should only post information that you and they are comfortable with everyone seeing and knowing.
It’s true what they say about the internet: “Once it’s out there, it’s there forever.”
The internet is basically just a huge billboard that advertises a person’s personal information to everyone, including teachers, police, college admissions officers and potential employers.
Not only is it available to individuals of significance, but it can be used to fuel bullying, both online and at school.
Warn Your Kids of the Dangers of Flirting With Strangers
While your six year old may not be so interested in receiving attention from people online, teenagers are especially prone to seeking physical validation as they navigate the confusion of puberty and hormones.
Because some people lie online about who they really are, no one ever knows exactly who they are dealing with.
While harmless flirtations on social networks are okay when you know the person in real life, things can become dangerous when it involves strangers.
Tell your child to trust their gut – if they feel threatened or uncomfortable by someone online, they need to tell you and report it to both the police and your internet service provider.
You could end up preventing someone else from becoming a victim.
Monitoring Their Activity
Even if you have a parent-child relationship with open communication, your child is not going to tell you everything that is going on.
Whether they are embarrassed or scared, sometimes you need to do a little bit of light monitoring to ensure their safety.
If you are concerned that your child is engaging in risky online behavior, you can search their name, nickname or school to see what information they are posting.
Should you find anything concerning, have an honest talk with them. Don’t judge or accuse – simply listen and establish boundaries.
Eventually they will understand that you are only trying to keep them safe.
What are your biggest concerns about your child using social networks? Let us know in the comments!