Before social media hit the scene, most teens used to spend time every day talking to their friends on the phone. With the rise of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, kids and teens now have a host of mediums through which they can communicate with their social groups.
Most major social media platforms offer suggestions for parents on how to keep children safe on their particular site. Here’s a rundown of tips from the largest online networks, as well as suggestions for a few security and filtering applications parents can use to keep their kids safe online.
Facebook offers help for parents navigating their teen’s involvement on the worldwide social media site.
“Facebook enables people to control the audience of their posts,” a Facebook security information page says. “Encourage your kids to review their privacy settings and to make sure they consider the audience when sharing content on Facebook.”
Facebook encourages parents to set clear boundaries with their teens and employ the same rules for online social activity as they would in real life.
“Think of social media as a get-together at one of your child’s friends’ houses,” Facebook advises. “You can give permission for your teen to attend, and even though you won’t be there to monitor their behavior, you trust your teen to have good judgment around peers and other parents. It’s all about balancing your teen’s growing independence and need for privacy with your safety concerns.”
Knowing how to utilize the features on its site helps teens and children stay safe and allows parents to have a little peace of mind. Facebook security specialists advise parents and children take some time to learn about the tools available that have been set up for their protection.
“Also encourage your kids to use their activity log, a powerful tool that enables people to review and manage what they've shared on Facebook,” Facebook says on its website. “With your activity log, you can manage who sees your content across Facebook. No one else sees your activity log.”
Instagram has grown in popularity over the last few years among teens. Its photo sharing application has over 200 million active monthly users, putting it in league with Facebook and Twitter when it comes to popularity.
For parents with children on Instagram, the site offers a downloadable pamphlet called, “A parent’s guide to Instagram.”
“For many kids, part of the fun of Instagram is developing a big following — a good thing for parents and kids to talk about,” Instagram’s guide says. “Having a public account on Instagram means anyone can follow you. A private account means that you have to approve anyone who wants to follow you, so many parents have their kids start using Instagram with a private account.”
Learning to set boundaries and seek help with online problems is also key to keeping kids safe, Instagram says.
“Though there's nothing inherently dangerous about Instagram,” Instagram’s guide says, “the main things parents worry about are typical of all social media: mean behavior among peers and inappropriate photos or videos that can hurt a child’s reputation or attract the wrong kind of attention. Kids can learn to manage these risks, which is why we wrote this guide.”
Like other large social media networks, Twitter comes with its list of possible risks for users. The site has also published tips for parents worried about their child’s involvement on Twitter.
Because of Twitter’s global reach, it can be hard to monitor who sees what. Twitter recommends parents talk to their children about what they post, and the amount of personal information they share online.
“While Tweets can be protected so only approved followers can see them, most users share their Tweets with everyone. If your child wants their Tweets to only be available to approved followers, they can protect their Tweets,” Twitter says on its security tips page.
It’s also important to remind teens to protect their passwords, Twitter says.
“Explain to your child that passwords should never be shared, not even with their friends,” Twitter says. “If the home computer is shared, remind them to always log out when they finish their Twitter session to develop good online safety habits. It's important to log out of any websites they logged into on a shared computer, otherwise, other people may be able to access their information.”
Security apps for parents
A few general online filtering apps exist that can help make a parent's job easier. OpenDNS is helpful in the home and can be used on mobile devices to control what people visit and can't visit.
My Mobile Watchdog works with iOS and Android phones and allows parents to keep minute by minute tabs on their kids, monitor who they are talking to, texting and what they use their phones for.
Parents should remember that, while these apps are helpful tools, they aren't perfect. Open communication with teens is essential, even when security applications are being used.
Robynn Garfield has worked in journalism for over 10 years. She's currently working as a freelance journalist while chasing her 3 sons.