This post concludes this week’s series on safe social networking for kids. I was inspired to write these posts because my 8 year old son has been spending time on a trusted social network for children and we’ve been talking to him about being responsible online, as well as practicing online safety from our end.
You see, as a parent I don’t believe it’s responsible for me to trust my son to be responsible and leave it at that. He’s a good kid but he also tests his limits. As we talk about online safety it occurs to me that the social media blogs, and even many parenting blogs, discuss social media in an adult sense, but we never relate it to kids. Yet many grownups admit to being not very computer savvy, while their kids are the ones who do all the surfing.
Don’t assume your kids are following the rules
My son? He’s a good boy. I trust him with some things, and while I’m pretty sure he’s not destined to a lifetime of incarceration, I can tell you that there are times he tests the rules. This is normal for all kids, and smart or “good” kids think they’re above the rules sometimes as well. We can’t set our kids up with a laptop, tell them to be careful who to talk to and leave it at that. We have to practice (to quote “Mad Eye” Moody) “constant vigilance.”
It’s recommended that a child’s computer is kept in a central area where parents can see what they’re doing. If your kids know you’re keeping tabs, they’re less likely to cross boundaries. My son’s computer is in the office right next to mine. He does his thing and I do mine. Every so often I check out what he’s doing and ask questions if only to let him know I’m aware.
It doesn’t hurt to set ground rules, either. For example, my son has to let us know about any conversations he’s having online, no matter how innocent. Granted, on Club Penguin conversation doesn’t usually go beyond “hey, nice igloo!” but at least I know what my son is saying, who he’s talking to and what they’re saying in return. Also? By keeping tabs now, my son is learning how to be safe and responsible in his social networking so that if he does graduate to Facebook one day, he’ll have a better idea of how to behave.
As much as we hope our kids will make good choices, the truth is that sometimes they don’t. Also, we might be able to trust them, but we can’t necessarily trust the people they’re talking to. We have no choice but to keep tabs on what they’re doing.
My favorite story is the one of the parents who didn’t know a thing about computers so they asked their 10 year old to set the parental controls. She set it up, they left her alone and she used their credit card to do a bit of shopping.
Parental controls aren’t a babysitter, so even if we do set up some sort of “Net Nanny” system, we still have to monitor what are kids are doing. However, they are an important tool for online safety. They ensure our kids aren’t going to sites we don’t approve of or talking to people we don’t want them to talk to. They also might not allow kids access to passwords and other important information so they’re not sharing with the wrong people. Parental controls aren’t censorship or an invasion of privacy, they’re smart parenting. If the social networking sites or your browser doesn’t have parental controls, there are plenty of programs you can use to help ensure your child’s safety.
Don’t use privacy as an excuse for ignorance
Many parents aren’t keeping track of what their kids are doing online because they don’t want to compromise their privacy. Now, my son? He can get dressed with the door closed, or hang out with his friends without me being in the same room because I do respect his privacy and get that I can’t hover over him constantly and still expect him to grow into a mature adult. However, there are different types of privacy. Closing the door to the bedroom when one wants some alone time is OK kid privacy. Allowing a kid to run amok on the social networks? Not so much. The kids who aren’t monitored are the ones who are swearing up a storm and posting up provocative photos. I have a teenage relative who is a very good kid, but on his Facebook he curses a lot and talks about cutting class. His parents “respect his privacy” and don’t know he’s making bad choices both offline and online. His Facebook would be a real eye opener if his parents checked it out once in a while.
Don’t be embarrassed to get frank in discussing what your kids will encounter online
We can’t be afraid to speak frankly about the types of people who hang out in the social networks. Thankfully, many networks are taking up the call and our kids have some very safe places to socialize, but what happens when they graduate from kid stuff? And what happens when they try the not so safe networks? We have to tell them about the grownups who are pretending to be kids and the perverts and hackers. We have to discuss why they can’t share passwords or personal information. We can’t sugar coat stuff, because that only means our kids are receiving sugar coated information.
Know who your children are talking to
In the real world, we want to know where are kids are going and who they’re talking to. We meet their parents, we make them tell us phone numbers, addresses and what time we’ll be home. So why aren’t we asking similar questions when our kids are chatting with others online?
- “Who are you talking with?”
- “How do you know this person?”
- “What do you talk about?”
- “How old is he or she?”
- “What common interests do you share?”
- “Where does this person live?”
- “How often do you talk?”
- “Do you also text or talk on the phone?”
- “Do you email or send photos?”
It’s not even enough to ask questions though. We have to be a constant presence when our kids are online, look over their shoulders and ask questions. We need to check out the different open windows and read the brower’s history. It’s not being overbearing or overprotective, it’s being a parent. If our kids are keeping us from seeing their computer screen, quickly exiting out of a window or turning off a chat when we enter a room, we have to ask why. Anyone who doesn’t want our kids to tell us what they’re talking about, doesn’t have our kids best interests in mind.
Make sure kids know their online actions can affect their future
Sometimes words or online actions have ways of coming back to haunt us. Something we say or post can be found by college recruiters and/or future employers and they might not like what they see. You can’t trust a social network to be private either. Sometimes someone with a grudge will repost something inappropriate said or done by your children in a private network. Sometimes, your kids might feel they have to friend a potential employer to get a job (they don’t) in order to get a job and that employer might find something unflattering. What we post online has the potential to stay there forever.
A good rule is to never post anything online you wouldn’t want splashed across the headlines of the New York Times. It might not happen, but history proves that it can. Everyone is “Googleable.” Do you want your daughter’s sexy Facebook pictures or son’s drunken party photos to get in the hands of the people who determine their future? As parents, we have to think about this because our kids act in the moment.
I don’t care how perfect we feel our children are, they probably break or bend rules now and then. Even if they don’t test the limits, they might trust the wrong people online. It might not even be our kids fault, either. Too many grownups and seedy types are pretending to be someone else so they can approach our kids online.
Parents can help their kids practice safe social networking by:
- Asking questions
- Monitoring surfing and social networking activity
- Knowing who their kids are talking to online
- Setting rules and boundaries
- Using parental controls
What are some of the things you’re doing to ensure your kids are safe when they’re online?