What do WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, and Tumblr have in common? They happen to be five of the hottest social apps for kids these days. While social media sites like Facebook and Myspace were the main players a decade or so ago, the landscape has definitely changed.
Social media can offer a lot of benefits such as opportunities for networking with peers, making new friends, keeping in touch with loved ones far and near, and developing communication skills. But there is a dark underbelly to social media, in general, and to the Internet, in particular.
Consider these startling statistics:
- The largest demographic of Internet porn consumers happen to be kids between the ages of 12 and 17;
- One in five teenage Internet users report having received undesired sexual solicitation such as requests for personal info or private chats;
- Nine in 10 children between the ages of eight and 16 have encountered online porn;
- Law enforcement agencies estimate that any given time there are 50,000+ sexual predators prowling around online;
- 69% of teenagers often get online communications from people they don’t know — and they don’t inform their parents or caregivers;
- About 89% of sexual solicitations of children were made via chat room or instant messaging programs; and
- 20% of kids between the ages of 10 and 17 were on the receiving end of sexual solicitation or were approached on the Internet.
Despite the sobering statistics, banning your kids from social media is not the answer. What you need to do is to ensure that they understand and comply with social media rules that will help to keep them safe in 2017 and beyond.
TOO YOUNG FOR FACEBOOK?
While Facebook isn’t necessarily the first site kids turn to when looking to connect with others, it is nonetheless a popular site. But the minimum age for anyone seeking to create an account is 13. You need to inform you kids that it is not okay to sign up under false pretenses.
SET PRIVACY SETTINGS PROPERLY
As the parent, you need to take the initiative to set the privacy settings to the most stringent levels on any computer or mobile device that your kids will use to connect to the Internet. This will safeguard your children as well as protect your computers, tablets, and smartphones from viruses.
EMPLOY FILTERING SOFTWARE
Be sure to use filtering software — there are plenty of options available — to monitor your children’s online activity. You’ll be able to stay abreast of info such as the sites they visit, the amount of time they spend on the Internet, and even the precise keystrokes they typed.
KEEP COMPUTER IN CENTRAL LOCATION
Until your kids are perhaps old enough to get a job and buy their own computers, you need to keep computers in a central location of your home where there is sufficient foot traffic. You should discourage your children from hiding away in their rooms while on the Internet.
AVOID ‘FREEBIE’ SCAMS
Who doesn’t like to win free things? The problem is that criminals often use things like surveys and the like to trick the unsuspecting to give up personal details that they otherwise wouldn’t. Ensure that your children are not only street-proofed but also Internet-proofed so that they don’t fall for scams.
SIGN OFF ON PICS
Social media provides an ideal platform for posting pictures, but you need to inform your kids about the need to be wise on what sorts of pics they share. To avoid any problems, let your kids understand that you must sign off on any and every picture that they post or send on social media.
SET USAGE LIMITS
You need to set guidelines for when your kids can use social media and how long they can spend doing it. There should be no instance, for example, where your kids are communicating with people on social media while everyone else is the home is asleep for the night.
COMMUNICATE THE DANGERS
You need to education your kids so that they understand the potential dangers of social media — such as the fact that the people they communicate with may not be who they claim to be. You should definitely warn them not to get into discussions with strangers and not to disclose personal information. Also be sure to let them know what steps to take if they are approached by potential predators online.
Teaching children social media skills is really just an extension of the social skills you are already endeavouring to teach them. With the former, you’re really just adapting things for the digital age.
Social media presents plenty of benefits that kids should not be denied. By implementing and enforcing some social media rules, your kids will be able to safely enjoy communicating with those they know via the Internet.