Five years ago, the idea of “social networking” involved going out in the evening to community events to rub shoulders with other people in your area. And the one thing that you never would have seen at one of these events was children. But now social networking has moved into the realm of cyberspace with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Tout. So the question must be asked—is online social media still an adults-only realm or should children be allowed to dip their toes in these waters?
- Before you allow your child to use one of these social media sites, consider what the drawbacks might be. Probably most obvious is the potential exposure to strangers and online sexual predators. Children have a habit of wanting to be nice to people who are nice to them, and this can open them up to online predators trolling for naïve young victims. But most experts agree that even worse than adult predators is same-age bullying. Cyberbullying has become a major problem with children targeting other kids to embarrass or harass them in cyberspace. Being a part of social media can open your child up to this danger and you need to seriously consider if this danger is worth the positives of social media exposure.
- If you do choose to let your child onto a social media site, make sure that you do a few simple things to keep them safe and secure:
- First and foremost in online security for your child is sit with them and watch them when they are on these websites. You wouldn’t allow your eight-year-old to wander alone through downtown. The same goes for the internet. Think of it as one big city with plenty of “rough neighborhoods” that you need to monitor your child when they are exploring around.
- Turn your child’s privacy settings to the maximum level. No one should be able to view their Facebook page or other website account without being accepted as a “Friend.” And inform your child that only you will approve friend requests. Don’t let them accept requests from people on their own. You should only accept requests from friends and family that you are familiar with and comfortable sharing with.
- Talk to your child about not sharing private information online. If a child mentions something like his or her school name or schedule online, then a sexual predator can use this information along with his or her name to track down the child in the real world. Also, avoid posting pictures that might reveal personal information inadvertently, like a home address.
- Finally, make sure that any other personal information like phone number, social security numbers and the like are never entered online as these can be used for identity theft and sold on the black market. A child’s credit rating can actually be destroyed before he or she ever even gets a credit card.
There are definite benefits to allowing a child to use social media, such as an expression of creativity and the opportunity to talk to children of various cultures. But parents need to carefully weigh these positive attributes with the potentially negative side effects which might put their child in danger the next time they log in.