Teaching kids to be safe on social networks is something that all parents need to start doing as soon as their kids show an interest in any online hangout. Banning them from sites or thinking you have it covered with strict privacy settings is not however, the way to instil in them safe social networking skills.
Many believe certain sites are safe because they require an email address to set up an account. They are safe because you have an administrator who will answer your concerns. They are safe because they are aimed at certain age groups only. They are safe because you can befriend your child and are therefore privy to everything they do and say. They are safe because you have no way of interacting with more than one person at a time. Whilst some sites certainly do have these ‘safer’ elements, here is the big tip….
No online sites are safe. There can only ever be safe users
If we teach our kids that any site is safe, thus giving ourselves and them a false sense of security, then we are much more likely to be putting them at risk. We feel protected by settings rather than concentrating on how they are interacting and what information they are giving out. Many parents are unaware just how many sites there are out there and are limiting their rules to the more well known sites. I have known of many kids on Instagram, Kik and Qooh.Me, but their parents have not allowed them Facebook.
Certainly there are some sites and apps that get kids into more trouble than others. There are some that leave the door open far wider for bullies and predators and for kids to do damage to their own digital footprint. I wrote recently about Qooh.me, Ask.Fm and similar sites and how I believe that they are more dangerous for their exposure to anonymous users. There are plenty of sites like this. Certainly keep your kids off these sites that offer no positive interaction or real connection, but be sure to be involved in the other sites they are on, particularly when they are young, so you can help them learn these new skills. Even kids on ‘safe for yong people’ sites like Moshi Monsters can get into trouble if not guided properly and continually monitored.
Just as we can no longer simply advocate keeping the computer in a central location and thinking you have it covered, other ‘safety’ measures such as taking the modem with you to work so your kids cant get online, is in my opinion, also unrealistic and unwise. I know my kids are safe from unsuitable content when at home because I have a cybersafe modem installed, but this does not mean that they won’t see the content when they are at a friends house.
Instead of blocking and banning, we need to guide, support and educate.
Teach your kids that what goes online stays online.
Teach your kids about the sorts of information they should or should not be giving out.
Teach your kids to understand the power of the written word as both a positive and negative force
Teach them that liking or commenting on a photo with a nasty caption makes them just as liable as the creator when it is bought to the attention of the teacher, principal, boss or other parent.
Teach them that sending any photo can be screen saved and forwarded on, even if they are told it will delete in seconds.
Teach them that just because you as the parent may not know they are hanging out on a site, there is a good chance their aunty, friends mum, school teacher, principal or boss does…and they may well be watching.
Already that is too much information for us to simply tell them. We need to help them use these sites, pick them up on these points when they push the boundaries and bring to their attention the mistakes when we see them. We need to do this in the hope that they can learn and build up enough skill and understanding so that these points become second nature when they are older and we no longer have the same sorts of controls.
We may help our kids to buy a safer car with optional extras, however we still wouldn’t let them drive it without lessons and practise.
Once again, like most things parenting, it takes a little education, an understanding of your childs abilities and a pretty big dose of common sense.