Protecting Your Child’s Privacy Amidst Social Media Overload
The deluge of social media may have contributed much to global communication and interaction but has sadly brought some risks which have not been anticipated before. Cyber bullying, child pornography, phishing and other cyber crimes are riding on the wave of over-exposure which social media tend to generate. Children are especially vulnerable to these online risks because they are naïve and curious—a combination which makes them very easy prey for online predators.
How can we keep our children private in an overexposed world? There are actually age-based guidelines for internet use which have been developed by Microsoft in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatricians. Learning these guidelines by heart is imperative for our children’s safety. But of course, learning our children by heart is even better.
For kids below 10 years old:
This is the best time to establish clear rules regarding internet use. Children of this age group have full trust in you and easily soak up whatever rules you set.
- Sit with your kids whenever they are using the internet.
- Early on, establish an open communication with your children. Your children need to know that you are there to answer their questions about computers, websites and other matters.
- Set rules for your children regarding internet use such as what sites they are allowed to visit, how many hours they could spend on each site and what information they can share on these sites.
- Explain to your kids the rationale behind each rule. Children will actually appreciate boundaries if you take the time to make them understand why you are setting them.
- Tell your kids not to share their personal details to people they only meet online. Explain that personal details include their real and full names, their home address, school, phone number or passwords.
- Teach your kids that should any site ask them to enter their names in order to personalize the site experience, they should use nicknames instead of their real names.
- Filter the internet by using family safety tools. Explore some parental controls that you can use for your children’s safety. For instance, you can block pop-up windows which could lead your kids to offensive sites.
- Be a good role model for your children regarding internet use. Set standards for them to follow. Encourage them to visit wholesome, educational and inspirational sites.
For children ages 11 to 14:
Children of this age would already show signs of internet savvy but they still need your guidance and monitoring in order for them to be kept away from inappropriate sites. This is a critical time for your children as they are more adept at computers and they are more sociable, both personally and virtually. To this age group, social networking is a necessity and a pastime. Now is the time to foster a more open line of communication with your kids. They need to know that they can trust you even more than they can trust their friends and that they can open up to you about their internet activities.
- Place internet-connected computers in an open, well-trafficked area in your house so that you can supervise your kids’ online activities. Do not allow them to go online when they are alone.
- Your children need to feel that they can tell you about anything that might be bothering them. They need you to be alert yet not overreacting, to be calm and yet confident in your actions. Should they feel threatened or worried about their online activities, they should be able to comfortably talk with you about it.
For children ages 15 to 18:
Chances are, kids this age are even more internet-savvier than you are. If you have built a solid relationship with them, you will not have any problems. Still, it would be wise to remind them from time to time about internet safety rules. They should be wary of inappropriate messages or risky situations. They should still avoid sharing their personal details online.
- Continue to build an open communication with your teens. Do not underestimate the value of “small talk” in discerning your kids’ problems. Encourage them to talk about their online activities, new sites they found or new friends they’ve made. You can much more easily spot when something is wrong if you are in constant communication with them.
- Keep on with your family’s internet safety rules.
- Take the time to keep abreast of internet-filtering tools. When your kids know you are internet-savvy yourself and that they are being supervised, they will more likely keep away from inappropriate or risky sites.
- Always insist to your teens that they must never meet an online friend.
- Impose the rule that your teens should not download files or programs without your express permission.
- Discuss with your teens the dangers of pornographic sites. Tell them these sites promote prostitution and child trafficking.
- Tell your kids not to post too-revealing photos of themselves that would give away their personal details such as their school address, names and contact numbers.
- Tell your kids to be wary of spam mails that might simply be fishing for their passwords.
- Warn your kids about the habit-forming tendencies of online gaming and gambling sites.
In general, teach your kids—by your words and actions—about ethical, appropriate and safe online behavior. They should have the mindset to use the internet not as a tool to spread gossip or nonsense but to regard it as a useful resource to foster communication and learning.