There’s no doubt that a lot more of our lives are conducted online than perhaps ten or fifteen years ago. With the increased popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, we are now all connected in ways we may not have thought possible back then. Our children are also engaged, messaging their school friends and posting videos and pictures, and communicating with a whole host of people across the world.
10 Tips for Keeping Children Safe on Social Media
On the one hand it’s remarkable and exciting for children to be online and having access to social media can help them develop and thrive. But parents also know that there are pitfalls to the technology from cyberbullying and the risk of being befriended by undesirable individuals to the chance of viewing inappropriate content and even developing a gambling habit.
- Time to talk
The earlier you have the conversation about safety online with your children, the better. And it doesn’t do any harm to keep reminding them. Whilst this should not be a hysterical rant about what can go wrong, you can make your kids aware that not everything is always as it seems online. For instance, they should only accept connection requests from people they know in real life.
- Take an interest
Yes, children might be protective of their online world and may not want you to be involved, but if you start early enough and show enough interest then that may well give you more access to their ‘inner sanctum’. Recent statistics show that the average child spends about 12 hours a week online doing various activities and you’ll want to know that they are safe. After all you wouldn’t let them wander off into a new town without you, why would you let them wander around in this digital world alone.
- Who are they talking to?
Children don’t just get to know people on social media, there are also a wealth of gaming sites now where players can interact. This is where you need to explain to your child that it is easy for people to pretend to be someone else online and that they shouldn’t be accepting friend requests from individuals they don’t really know. Pretty much like the conversation we all have at an early age about strangers.
- Have rules
It might seem easier to let your child explore the online world by themselves, there is a lot to be said about independence at an early age, but it also pays to have rules in place as you would for any other activity. This can include the amount of time they spend on social media, how they treat other people and what kind of information and images they share. Most of all reiterate this is real too – quite often people behave out of character online as it seems unreal and therefore without consequences.
- Is this platform right?
When you are looking at what your child is doing online check that the platform they are using is age appropriate, something that is particularly important when they come to take part in online gaming. Of course, we can also access things such as movies and video content with greater ease and you will want to make sure your child isn’t watching something they shouldn’t.
You can now put restrictions on the kind of content that is viewed. Whilst many platforms have dragged their feet with this in the past, most are now catching up and have age restrictions in place. Parents can also access the software on their pcs and put passwords in place which means children can’t access certain information. If you are not sure how this works then contact your local ISP provider for more help.
- Privacy Issues
It’s not just the content that children can see which is important but the information about themselves that they make available online. With all platforms there are options to show or conceal data and you can make sure your child is not releasing personal information on their profile. A chat about privacy settings and why they are important can save a lot of heart ache.
- Check devices
As we have become more technologically advanced, we can now access the same information on a range of different devices. Just because you have a handle on what your child is doing on their laptop doesn’t mean they aren’t doing something different on their smartphone.
- Getting older
Your child will get older and more proficient with the latest technology, if you’re like me their proficiency will soon out strip yours! Just because they are more tech savvy doesn’t make them more life savvy. In their late teens your children can still be rather vulnerable keep engaging with them about their online activity. This is much easier if you have started the process early on but can still be a challenging period for parents. Which sums up teenage years nicely.
- Keep track with other parents
For many, particularly if you are not technologically proficient, keeping track of our children’s online activity can be quite daunting. You may find yourself sat alone, wondering if your son or daughter is staying safe while they surf or game. Getting together with another parent and sharing knowledge and concerns is an ideal way of elevating this worry and keeping up with the latest developments. Most schools now have some level of support for how to deal with the online world and how it impacts your child, there is also plenty of online help for parents.
Suggestions for safe social media activity:
Social media is a fantastic way for children to continue their social development. Most teams and clubs our children attend will have some form of online presence. Why not suggest that your chosen club operates a Facebook group? This will allow parents and members to stay in touch and because of Facebook Group privacy setting you can lock down a ‘group’ so that only members of the group can see the content and only those invited by the administrator can join (called a secret group). This provides a relatively safe environment.
About the author: Jules White of The Last Hurdle. Jules White is the founder, franchisor and the Northampton franchisee of The Last Hurdle. A Business Development Specialist with over 18 years sales and marketing experience, Jules was invited to be a panellist for Facebook, advising small businesses how to use Facebook for Business at the first Bootcamp in EMEA and again during the summer tour in Cardiff.