Updated: Jan 5, 2021
Nowadays, many children have their entire lives documented online, which can have far-reaching ramifications, both positive and negative. However, when educated about things like privacy, security and digital citizenship, they can enjoy social media and hopefully avoid its negative aspects. During COVID-19, especially, it is important for kids to know how to safely connect with their peers through social media.
As one of our 7th-grade students shared, "I love having the feeling of having all my friends in my back pocket." Help them keep themselves and these friends safe online!
Are you "Sharenting"?
Sometimes kids aren't the problem - well-meaning parents and/or guardians are! "Sharenting" refers to the overuse of parents or guardians sharing pictures of their children on social media. One study claims that children before five will have approximately 1,000 photos posted of them online. Understandably, parents want to share their happiness, but this can be dangerous. According to Vox, it is relatively easy for a picture on social media to get twisted. So, before explaining the social media rules to your children, ensure that you set a good example.
Here's the list of topics to have an open dialogue with your kids about before they create a social media account:
Children under the age of 13 are not developmentally capable of abstract or ethical thinking, and this includes being incapable of fully judging someone else's character. Thankfully, most social media platforms require users to be at least 13 to use their platforms. However, there are workarounds to such rules, like lying about one's age, and many children know how easy it is to do this.
When it comes to 'friending' others online, our rule of thumb is simple. If your child has not met the 'friend' in person, if the 'friend' is not of a similar age, or if they simply don't have any interest in being 'friends' with that person, then don't accept the friend request.
What not to share
It's imperative to tell children not to share personal details like their address, school name, or current location with anyone they don't know, and to never post this information online. Additionally, they should always avoid sharing photos of their location.
Help them keep this rule by hopping into the settings of the social sites they use and show them how to turn off location-tracking. It would be even better if you told them not to use apps that track locations or ask for too much personal information (ahem, TikTok, anyone?).
A reliable option for communication with children is Messenger Kids. It does not require a Facebook profile but will let you get in contact with your kids seamlessly. Nevertheless, the pros and cons of Messenger Kids should be researched by each family before a child gets access to it.
Avoid posting too many photographs
Posting photos on social media platforms is one of the biggest attraction for kids. But there are risks with posting photographs on social media too, and you must explain this to your children. We recommend that kids have private accounts. If their accounts are public, anyone can use their pictures in possibly inappropriate and harmful ways.
If your children are too young to understand the risks, it's best to completely restrict posting photographs and take advantage of the social media platforms' parental controls.
Anything posted on social media has long-term consequences. What might seem like a lame joke now may be seen as abusive five years from now. An example would be how Kevin Hart dropped out of hosting the Oscars due to a homophobic tweet or how 10 Harvard students lost their acceptance letter due to racist and sexist memes they posted.
You will have to explain that social media is here to stay, and when they grow up, their posts, photographs, and activities could come back to haunt them or be used against them. Thus, explain that they have to be extremely careful about what they do or post on popular social media platforms.
To help your child avoid cyberbullying (either as the target, observer, or perpetrator) create a list of rules you can place near your family computer. This list could include reminders like "Is my post hurtful to others?" or "How would I feel if someone sent me the same message?" or "Does the message feel threatening in any manner?" You should discuss bullying with your children and tell them not to join friends in teasing or gossiping about others online. If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, read our guidelines here.
Overall, staying safe online is difficult enough for adults. This aim becomes even more challenging to achieve for children. Always treat privacy as a priority and teach your kids about the measures necessary for maintaining a healthy digital lifestyle. While we can't protect them from all dangers online, educating them, and having ongoing conversations will help!
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) can also help protect your family. For instance, Atlas VPN conceals your location and prevents IP-based tracking. A VPN can also block access to potentially dangerous websites automatically.