With the majority of children and teenagers using social media on a daily basis, it is crucial for parents to ensure their safety online. After all, the virtual world presents a wide range of dangers. In spite of this, many parents remain out of touch with the realities of the modem world. Whether we like it or not, social media and the Internet have become a ubiquitous part of modern life, both for adults and for youngsters, and this is a fact that we cannot simply escape from. This article discusses the main concerns regarding social media and the safety of children and teenagers online.
Why You Should Be Concerned
Simply banning or heavily restricting your children’s access to social media is rarely practical or ethical, particularly in a world where it has become so widely used as a way to keep in touch with friends, organize events and much more. Establishing good communication and enforcing a few strict security and privacy policies in your family’s digital life is important for ensuring the safety of children and others online. After all, the vast majority of teenagers use their privacy settings to try to hide content from their parents and other adults. Building up trust so that they don’t feel inclined to do this is perhaps the greatest challenge of all. While many parents are confident that their youngsters are responsible with their social media accounts, and that they are not likely to come to any danger, this is, more often than not, a result of naivety.
With less real life experience and a degree of inherent naivety, youngsters are statistically much more likely to either place themselves in compromising situations through the use of social networking services, be subjected to inappropriate material, or even worse, fall victim to online predators. On websites such as Facebook, privacy is the greatest concern of all. Following are just some of the more significant risks that both youngsters and adults have to worry about.
- Posting compromising pictures and other content that could come back to haunt them later on, either when it comes to applying for a job or even forming personal relationships in the future. Potential employers, business partners and romantic partners often take a look at social networking profiles in order to determine whether or not to make a commitment. This might sound very disconcerting, but it is also an inescapable fact of modern life.
- Posting private or even financial information either by mistake, or as a result of a total lack of understanding of online privacy and security, can lead to disastrous consequences. Most of us have heard of some of the high profile cases in which youngsters have used sites like Facebook to organize house parties while their parents are away, ultimately leading to things getting completely out of hand. It is important that your youngsters are educated to know the consequences of posting online.
- Conducting inappropriate relationships online. There have literally been countless cases of youngsters falling victim to online predators, often posing as others of their own age. Social media comes with more than its fair share of users with malicious intentions aiming to exploit those who are underage and/or vulnerable.
- Cyberbullying is rapidly on the rise, with cowardly individuals (popularly known as Internet trolls) hiding behind their computer screens and using the Internet for the sole purpose of degrading and upsetting others. There have been some particularly disturbing cases recently in the UK involving teenagers who have become suicidal due to online bullying. Cyberbullying is a very real thing, and social media is where a great deal of it happens.
How You Can Protect Your Children Online
While any responsible parent should already have filtering methods such as parental controls installed on family computers, this is simply nothing like enough by itself. After all, many of the risks come with social interaction through sites like Facebook. These days, the risk also extends far beyond the computer screen, with many people now having constant Internet access on their smartphones and other mobile devices. No matter where your youngsters are, it is likely that they will always be able to find some way to access the Internet. Because of this if is not necessarily the best idea to ban it outright, even when it comes to dealing with younger children. The following takes a look at some of the most effective ways in which you can help to keep your children or teenagers safe when they’re using social media.
- The first and most important thing is good communication. Social media can me a dangerous platform when used irresponsibly, and frankly, many youngsters really don’t know what they are getting themselves into when they make their first steps into the digital world. Parents need to realise, that in this day and age, young people are almost certainly going to use social media whether their parents forbid it or not. However, through good communication, you should be able to clearly explain the dangers of the medium. Teach them about online privacy and security and familiarize yourself with the settings and policies of each social media site that they plan to use.
- Monitor their behaviour. This is particularly important when it comes to looking after younger children online. One thing to do is to create your own profile on any social media sites that your children use and ‘friend’ them as well. Some youngsters might not be too happy about this, but you should be able to come to an agreement without too much hassle. This will allow you to get a much better idea of what is going on, as well as having a degree of involvement in your youngsters’ digital lives. This way, you will be able to see who they are friends with online. In more extreme cases you can monitor them using special software which records chat messages sent and websites visited. However, this should not normally be necessary if you have already established good communication. Instead, it is better to see this as a last resort, or if you find yourself in a particularly troublesome situation regarding your children’s safety online.
- Use the privacy and security settings provided by the social media service. You can also use parental control software to restrict the times in which they can access social media sites. Such software is also available for mobile devices. When your youngsters want to create a social networking profile, you should always be there to help them, and you should use this opportunity to ensure that appropriate security and privacy settings are in effect. However, security and privacy settings should not be relied on entirely. Instead, they should be considered an extra line of defence.
- Look out for the warning signs. Children are much less likely to reveal much about their digital lives, even if they find themselves in potentially difficult or dangerous situations. While open communication is important, it is not always easy, and it is up to you as a parent to be able to notice the warning signs. Keep an eye out for changes in behaviour, and in particular, any signs of depression or awkwardness, since this could be a sign of online bullying.
The Internet can be a dangerous place, but whether you like it or detest it, it is here to stay, and it is only becoming more ubiquitous. While many parents may find it hard to accept the fact that children and teenagers are today heavily reliant on technology and constant online communication, it is practically unavoidable. Teaching them good habits now and alerting them of the dangers will also help to better equip them for their adult lives and dealing with future problems related to the Internet and technology. Today, many youngsters are far more familiar with technology and the Web than their parents are, yet they often don’t know how to use it responsibly in spite of this. Parents need to fight a constant battle to keep up, but in doing so, they will learn some valuable lessons themselves, play an important part in their children’s education and help to keep them safe.