For many Internet users social networking has become their main online activity. More than likely your kids are involved with social networking, perhaps even more than you realize. As responsible parents we want to know with whom our kids are associated and help them establish meaningful relationships in life. But how can we help them do that with their online friends and acquaintances?
Here are 10 tips that will help you guide your kids to having safe and positive interactions on social networking sites.
1. Get involved with social networking yourself. If you don’t know what social networking is all about, then now is the time to start finding out. One of the best ways to do that is ask your kids.
I got interested in social networking because of my kids and now I’m an avid user. They can tell you what services they use, how to use these services, what they are using it for and even suggest how you might find social networking useful and interesting.
More than likely you will find social networking appealing – there’s a reason why Facebook has over 500 million users and counting. Your kids will appreciate you taking an interest in something that they like to do, whether they are willing to admit it or not.
2. Connect with your kids on the social networks that they use and insist that they connect with you. You want to know what your kids are up to and where they go when they leave your home don’t you? Social networking should be no different. What they do online affects both you and them for better or worse.
If you are connected with your kids you can better monitor what they are up to, whether they are posting and reading appropriate material and make sure their social networking communications are appropriate.
3. Educate your kids about the dangers of going public with personal information. When you put your personal information and opinions out on the Internet, that data is there to for everyone to see essentially forever ̶ and it cannot be taken back. What you write can come back to bite you.
In general, you and your kids should never write anything that you would not be willing to say openly in front of other people. Anyone can learn a lot about you from what your profile information and what you write on social networking sites. And if you check in regularly with a feature like Facebook Places, they can even find out where you might be at any given time.
4. Make sure your kids know how to control their social network privacy settings. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to protecting your privacy online. If you want your kids to limit the exposure of their personal information, then they need to be familiar with the privacy controls offered by their social networking service.
You should pay particular attention to applications that your kids use. Social networking applications usually have access to personal information independently of any privacy settings in effect for everyone else. In this sense, applications are like another class of users. Your kids should take the same care using applications as they take connecting to other people.
5. Let your kids know what you define as appropriate social networking material, both for sending and receiving. You probably have a pretty good idea of what you consider is appropriate behavior for your kids. Make sure they know and follow your guidelines. The Golden Rule can be applied here.
Your kids should treat others (online) the same they want to be treated (online). Bullying on social networks has become a serious problem. Teach them about what constitutes bullying behavior and that they should let you know when they experience it. If they are bullied, report this to the social networking service. If the bullying comes from other students, report this to their school administrators.
6. Discourage your kids from establishing friendly contact with just anyone. With social networking, as in life, you need to choose your friends carefully. Not everyone out there is worthy of your friendship, online or otherwise. Your kids need to understand the difference between acquaintances and true friends.
If you value your privacy and you want your kids to follow suit, make sure they only connect with people that both you and they know well. This can be a tough one to follow. My kids are connected to a lot of acquaintances about whom I know very little. At the very least, make a rule that your kids should not connect to people they don’t know at all or have never met in person.
7. Be on the look out for people who are not who they claim to be. Even though your kids may take the care discussed in tip #6, they may still get requests to connect from people posing as famous personalities or at least personalities with whom your kids are familiar.
“Friending” people who are not who they claim to be can be a dangerous for kids. Stalkers or criminally inclined people might use this as a ruse to get to your children. Celebrities on social networking sites rarely reach out to fans, instead preferring to have the fans connect with them.
8. Keep an eye on strange posts regardless of who sent them. Occasionally, social network accounts are hacked or stolen and then used by the hackers to post or send information to people to lure them into navigating to phishing websites or other sites where you can potentially pick up malware.
Recently, I wrote a Fearless Web blog about such an experience I had recently on Facebook. You need to watch out for this type of activity on your kids’ accounts and advise them not to follow strange links to unknown websites.
9. Follow social networking and security blogs. Social networking is an ever-changing landscape both in terms of feature enhancements and new security threats. Social Networking Sites: Tips for Teens and Tweens is an excellent article put out by the Federal Trade Commission gives several tips for safe social networking and includes a nice list of sites where parents can get more information about staying safe online.
10. Use tools like Trend Micro™ Online Guardian for Families to keep tabs on your kids’ social networking activities. In the words of Trend Micro, this software “helps you protect your children against Internet dangers, including cyber bullying and online predators. This parental control software lets you monitor your kids’ Internet activity 24/7 from anywhere and take action to keep them safe.”
Trend Micro has extended the $20 discount for new Online Guardian subscribers until 4/30/2011. For more information: www.trendmicro.com/onlineguardian. Use promo code: “FW20″ for the $20 discount.