Internet Safety for Kids: Staying Safe on Social Media

Social media and Internet safety for kids. Tips for online safety.

The family meeting now involves discussions on Internet safety for kids — what parents expect from their children in terms of responsible Internet usage, and discussions about common-sense precautions that will keep kids safe online.

Social media is of particular importance here. According to a recent Pew Research Center Internet report, 81 percent of teens surveyed between the ages of 12-17 use social media, and while many kids have profiles on common sites like Facebook, they aren't always active on those sites for a variety of reasons: Some kids feel pressured by too much sharing, perceived or real bullying or because they don't feel free to express themselves. They may then gravitate towards newer social sites that parents are not aware of. Parents need to know where their kids are online, who they are interacting with, and just as importantly, why they prefer certain social sites over others.

Social Profiles and Privacy Settings

Every social site begins with creating a profile. Kids are getting more savvy about what they put into a profile, but it remains the parent's job to review it, as it is a key point regarding online safety for your kids. In terms of a profile, less is more. Nobody online needs to know where a child goes to school, relationship status, names of pets past or present, home or email addresses, phone numbers or any other identifying information.

Parents can coach their kids about how nefarious individuals use identifying information to gain access to personal accounts, to spam, impersonate them or otherwise cause harm. Help them set their privacy settings to strictly limit who can see their social media activities and view their profile. Friends of friends, for example, don't need to see their posts and photos. Periodically review their privacy settings to ensure that nothing has changed.

The Hazards of Over-Sharing

The same is true regarding "over-sharing." It may be seemingly innocuous to post details about being home alone, but such information could put a child at risk. The same is true about telling online friends about vacations, which is essentially telling the world when your home will be unoccupied. Kids may not understand that a simple post asking for a phone number may be from a malevolent source. Parents can help by discussing various scenarios with their kids, so that they understand what kinds of information should not be shared via social media.

What Goes Online, Stays Online

Children often get drawn into peer drama, blowing up the social media sphere with arguments and snarky commentary. Bully behavior may crop up, leaving kids feeling vulnerable and alone. Kids may be quick to take a video and post it online without thinking through the consequences. Parents can do a lot to explain that what goes online, stays online. Forever. Teach kids to take a breath before posting, and to never immediately take to Facebook or Twitter in the heat of anger. Parents should be firm that comments, actions and online behavior should be governed with the same courtesy and respect as kids would convey with people they meet face-to-face.

Mobile Safety and Social Media

Internet safety for kids includes mobile. More children have access to the Internet from their phones, tablets and handheld gadgets than ever before. Mobile access also means that kids have the ability to very quickly move to new social media sites before you'll ever see the evidence on the family computer. Setting firm rules about joining new sites is key, as is keeping communication open. Ask why your child may feel the need to jump into a new social media site, whether it is to get away from bullying behavior or simply to be a part of a newer, kinder, gentler online community.

Top Job for Parents

Internet safety for kids seems like a daunting task in the face of the ubiquity social media, but it's certainly necessary and important. Model for your kids the online behavior you expect of them and insist upon friending and following them on their social sites. Set up parental controls and be sure to stay on top of new social sites and determine if they are appropriate for your kids. Because mobile access increases your child's overall exposure to social media, it may be helpful to invest in mobile security software with parental control tools to help monitor your child's mobile activity. Above all, make Internet safety a top family priority.