In an increasingly digital world, nearly 95% of teens report they have a smartphone — giving them easy, instant access to their favorite social media platforms. The ubiquity of smartphones fuels perpetual online engagement; nearly 50% of U.S. teens report to be online “almost constantly.” This percentage has nearly doubled from just three years ago.
While social media has the potential to positively impact lives, for example by connecting users with family and friends and helping them access news and information, it poses all-too-real risks: cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, oversharing of personal information, and inappropriate messaging, to name a few. Read on for tips to keep your kids — and yourself — safe in the online world of social media.
Monitor and Protect Your Kids
Follow the below steps to help your kids use social media safely and responsibly.
- Educate yourself and get to know social media first-hand.
In order to guide your kids through safe social media use, you first need to understand the social media platforms they’re using. Some of the most popular among teens include Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter (click each platform for a quick guide from Mashable). Research these platforms and make yourself an account to experience them first-hand.
- Once you’ve learned the ropes, check your kids’ privacy settings.
Once you become familiar with your kids’ preferred social media channels, make sure to regularly check their privacy settings to monitor who they’re able to communicate with. Making sure your kids’ privacy settings are set to the strictest levels will ensure their channels are as secure as possible. (Find more information on Facebook privacy settings here.)
- Set screen time rules.
Setting a few social media ground rules will help you monitor your kids’ screen time and prevent social media from becoming a constant in their lives. Limit screen time to a designated time period (for example 7-8pm), give them a 1-2 hour social media “allowance” to use as they please, or let them log on once they’ve finished their homework. Another tip? Keep phones and computers in your home’s common areas — like the kitchen or family room — and out of kids’ bedrooms.
- Have open dialogue about the dangers of social media.
Most kids don’t realize the extent to which social media can negatively impact their lives. Talk to your kids about the dangers, risks, and consequences of social media, and share with them real-life stories of social media’s dark side, like examples of cyberbullying. Try to make them understand that what goes online stays online — and that the inappropriate things they say or “like” could negatively impact their lives years down the road.
Monitor and Protect Yourself
It’s not just kids who fall prey to the dark side of social media; adults are susceptible as well. In order to protect your kids online, you also need to protect yourself. Start with these tips.
- Set up passwords — strong passwords.
Step 1) Password-protect your device if you have social media apps on your phone.
Step 2) Password-protect your social media accounts — with different passwords for each.
Step 3) Set up security answers for your social media accounts.
Step 4) Remember to log off your social media accounts when you’re finished.
- Avoid oversharing.
Avoid sharing information and photos that would indicate a specific locale. Don’t share when you’re on vacation (and your house is empty) and don’t share images of your house or your home’s location. Also, it goes without saying that you should never share your personal phone number, credit card, or banking information.
- Click with caution.
Avoid spammy and click-baity links. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is; common sense goes a long way when it comes to protecting yourself on social media. In a similar vein, avoid accepting friend requests from people you don’t know. You wouldn’t share personal information with a stranger in real life, would you?
- Adjust your privacy settings.
Adjusting privacy settings to the strictest level isn’t just a good idea for kids — it’s the smart move for adults too. Educate yourself on privacy settings beyond the “default” setting that you’re given when you create an account.
Protecting your kids — and yourself — from the dangers of social media might seem daunting in this increasingly digital age, but following a few simple steps can make the online world a safer, more positive place for your whole family.