9 Ways to Make Social Media Safer for Children
As parents, our two top priorities are to keep our children safe and to provide as many opportunities as possible for them to make the most of their lives.
However, we also know that it can be challenging to do both at once; allowing our children to experience life often comes at the cost of having to expose them to dangers and threats from which they were previously sheltered.
Of course, trying to keep children from the world certainly won’t work, and is neither practical nor responsible parenting. It’s much better to provide them with guidance and equip them with knowledge so that they can navigate this crazy, exciting world in a safe and meaningful way.
There is perhaps no better example of the challenge in finding this balance than social media. Both a rich resource and a hotbed for fraud or worse, it’s essential that we do everything we can to make social media – which is not inherently dangerous – safer and more constructive for kids to use.
The Perks of Social Media for Children
At first glance, some people are quick to say, “children don’t belong on social media.” And while there is some merit to this argument, it’s simply not practical to take this approach. Recent research from Pew found that 95 percent of kids – particularly teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 – have access to the internet, with just over 50 percent of respondents saying they are “constantly” online.
It doesn’t help that most social media platforms only require you to be 13 (Facebook) or 16 (Snapchat) to join, meaning you’re fighting an uphill battle to keep them from these platforms.
Plus, when used properly, social media can provide significant benefits to your children, such as:
These benefits, along with the inevitability of your child’s social media use, advocate that we should be realistic and embrace that kids are going to use social media. This perspective will allow us to develop more proactive and effective methods of keeping them safe.
The Dangers of Social Media to Children
Of course, all of these positive aspects of social media do not remove the genuine dangers these platforms can expose our children to when they use them. Some of the most common threats kids face are:
Complied into one list, these threats make it seem like social media is a playground for all sorts of loathsome people. While we must admit they’re out there, we must also recognize they do not define the social media landscape. Good habits, combined with the right practices, can easily keep your kids from running into any of these unsavory individuals.
9 Ways to Keep Kids Safe on Social Media
Now that we understand the approach we need to take to keep kids safe when they’re using social media, here are nine techniques that will help you insulate your kids from the dangers of social media while allowing them to make use of its many benefits.
1. Learn How they Use Social Media (or Why They Want To)
The first step in keeping your kids safe is to learn about the environment in which they’re operating, which involves two things.
The first is directly asking your kids what they use, what their friends are using, or what they would like to be using. There are so many different platforms out there, and new ones are popping up all the time, that it’s much better to go straight to the source.
If and when they mention a platform you’re not familiar with, ask your child to show you what it is. Expressing genuine interest and encouraging them to teach you how to use it properly will often lead to them being more forthcoming than if they perceive you to be “grilling” them.
Should you see something concerning, feel free to ask more, but in the early stages, it’s more about showing them they’re speaking in a safe environment so that they will feel safe about openly sharing.
2. Educate Yourself on the Platforms that are Out There
Once you’ve begun the dialogue with your child or children, it’s important you then do your own research about the apps they are using as well as some of the others that are out there. We all want to think our kids will tell us everything, but the reality is they could have omitted information on purpose to hide any activity they know you would disapprove of.
In addition to the apps your children mention to you, you should also consider looking into any of the following platforms you’re not familiar with:
Other things you will want to look out for are apps designed to conceal other apps. It’s obviously not ideal to be snooping around your kids’ phones, but if you hear them talking about or see them using one of these apps, know that it might be time to discuss what your kids are doing online.
3. Set Privacy Settings
While it’s true that social media exposes users to other people, social media networks, over the years, have expanded the level of control we have over our own privacy, therefore reducing our risk and making social media safer.
The primary way they have done this is by offering personalized privacy settings. When your kid starts using social media, make sure they understand what these are and that they are set to the “most private” or “most secure.”
This will set it so that anything on your kid’s profile or anything they share will not be exposed to anyone outside of their network. Of course, it then becomes important to keep an eye on who’s in your kids’ networks, but this is something that should be a part of the many discussions on this issue so that your children learn to be selective about the people with whom they choose to connect.
One thing to remember, though, is that you make it clear to your kids that there is a difference between “private on the internet” and “private in real life.” Even with the tightest controls, posting something to the internet is still putting something out there, and once stuff is out there, it doesn’t come back.
4. Establish Ground Rules for the Entire Family
Our goal is to help kids use social media to provide them with a degree of independence and autonomy while also not exposing them to excessive risk. One good way to do this is to establish clear ground rules that everyone in the house will follow.
This part about everyone is particularly crucial because it demonstrates to kids that it’s not just them being subjected to regulation. Everyone is buying in because it’s simply the right thing to do.
As a result of this, it’s also essential that the conversation about the ground rules involves everyone. Including your child’s views and perspectives into the decision will help them see that you’re acting in their best interest and should make it easier to enforce the guidelines you’re creating.
Each family will have slightly different rules, but some good ones to include are:
Having family guidelines works best if you turn this into a discussion! CyberWise makes this easy for you by outlining topics to discuss and agree to in the downloadable "Parent/Child Tech Agreement." Establishing something like this, and then discussing it frequently to keep it fresh in people’s minds is important. Making sure everyone is following along can help create at the very least clarity about social media use in the house, making it much easier for kids to follow the rules set out to keep them safe.
5. Provide Your Child With Ownership Over Their Security
We’ve hinted at this by mentioning the importanc