How to Keep Your Kids Safe on Social Media
In today’s high-tech world, keeping kids safe online is a constant challenge. Parents worry about their children meeting people with bad intentions, posting inappropriate content that may embarrass them later and spending too much time on their devices. It is particularly difficult for parents of tweens and teens who may have their own smartphones and can easily use social media frequently — potentially away from watchful eyes.
According to Pew Research Center, 45 percent of teens say they’re online “almost constantly,” and a worrying 24 percent of teens say social media has a negative impact on their lives. That may not stop your kids from wanting to use social media, but fortunately, you may be able to help your kids by being actively involved in their digital lives. It is important to establish family guidelines and put parental controls in place. Follow these four tips for helping to keep your kids safe on social media.
1. Start by Having a Conversation
While there are ways to control your child’s access to social media, talking about it helps set them up for long-term success. Take it as an opportunity to educate them on the risks of social media. Talk about what sites they are allowed to visit, which apps they can use and who they can and can’t connect with online. For instance, you may want to restrict connections to people they know in the real world. It’s also a good idea to discuss what’s appropriate and inappropriate to post online — stressing that everything they post can be made public, even if it’s sent privately. You may also want to establish time limits on screen time so that it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying other activities. Even though you’re making the rules about their social media use, involving them in the conversation helps them understand why the rules exist.
Most social media sites don’t let kids create accounts before age 13 due to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) regulations, which are designed to help protect children. However, according to a Common Sense Media survey, 23 percent of tweens, who are kids between the ages of 8 and 12, have their own social media accounts. The earlier you start talking about online safety, the better they’ll understand when they get their own social media accounts.
2. Help Set Up Social Media Accounts
The easiest way to keep tabs on your child’s social media use is to be there from the beginning. Start by going through the account setup with them, including reading through the terms of service and other policies. This will explain the rules your child has to follow on the network — and by reading them together, you’ll both understand them.
Then configure their account settings, paying particular attention to privacy settings, which can be complicated. Going through the settings carefully helps you ensure your child is only sharing what they want to share and with whom they want to share it.
You’ll want to “follow” or “friend” your child on their social networks so you can see what they’re posting. In addition, know their password, so you can periodically review what your child sees through their accounts.
3. Don’t Let Them Install New Apps on Their Own
Because it’s important to keep tabs on your child’s social media use, you’ll want to make sure they can’t set up new accounts on their own. Parental controls come in handy here by preventing kids from installing new applications. Built-in parental controls are all you need on a smartphone if your child is under 13 and you have set up a child account for him or her. Once children turn 13, though, some sites and devices notify them of the option to take control of their account. If your child takes control of his or her account, your parental control options are more limited. So if your child is over 13 or uses computers and other devices, you will need to install software to monitor software and app installation. Many Internet security suites offer built-in parental controls in addition to malware protection for computers and mobile devices. Also, check to see if your internet security packages already includes parental controls.
4. Set Time Limits on Social Media Use
It can be easy to let social media absorb a lot of time. Setting a social media schedule (such as no Internet access after bedtime) or time limits on specific apps may help acclimate them to a healthy amount of screen time and keep their online habits in check. According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, using social media can negatively affect sleep, attention and learning and may result in a higher incidence of depression and obesity. They recommend creating a balance between screen time, including social media, and other activities.
The easiest way to limit access to social media is to use an app or device that can turn on and off access to the Internet. To do this, you’ll need to install parental control software on each of your child’s devices and/or use hardware that plugs into your Internet router that controls everything on your home Wi-Fi network. Using both is ideal, because software may help protect your kids’ devices while they are on the go and hardware can give you control over everything in the house — including shutting off Internet access across all devices with a single click.
Keeping your child safe online may seem like a daunting task. But by staying engaged with your kids through the process of setting up accounts, creating a few house rules and leveraging some easy-to-use tools, you can keep an eye on them and let them enjoy what social media has to offer.