6 tips for protecting your teens on social media

Ivana Davies, from Find Your Mom Tribe, has some practical ideas for keeping kids safe online.

This guest post is part of the Families with Grace’s Social Media Savvy series that covers a commonsense approach to handling social media as a parent.

Social media has its positives, but like pretty much anything else online, it also has dangers. Scammers and predators are always on the prowl, and online bullying has risen significantly in recent years. Teens are constantly bombarded with ads, threats, frauds and general bad influences.

If you’re a parent, you’re probably familiar with the little gnaw of worry whenever you think about the darker corners of the web. How do I keep my child safe? What can I do to protect them without smothering them?

You aren’t alone. Many parents have these concerns, but a few tips and tricks can help keep your teen safe online.

1. Get familiar with social networks.

Most teenagers don’t use Facebook. Studies have shown that it’s less popular than sites like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Snapchat. Teens also do most of their browsing on their phones rather than traditional computers or laptops.

Knowing these things are important if you want to understand what your child is doing on social media. You don’t have to be a technological genius, but you should have a working knowledge of the problem if you want your actions or advice to carry any weight.

To put it another way, your child isn’t going to let you deal with Snapchat bullies if you don’t know about or can’t even operate Snapchat. Your first step in becoming a social media warrior is learning what the battlefield looks like.

2. Protect their identity.

We live in a world where our GPS-enabled smartphones can track and analyze our locations. Our social media accounts are full of names, addresses, schools, workplaces and family pictures. Most people don’t even think twice about letting an app announce who they are or where they’re going. They might even help with things like vlogs and livestreams!

Make sure your child understands the danger of giving out too much information on the web. For example, they might complain about a late ride, but they shouldn’t share street names or broadcast the fact that they’re a stranded minor at a particular location without any adults around. Don’t let them ask their followers for a lift or accept any offers from accounts they don’t know.

You should also warn them against divulging personal information just because people ask for it. You might be stunned to realize how easily teenagers are willing to share their bank information just because someone claims to need it to resell them some concert tickets.

“Could a weirdo use this against me?” is the golden rule of posting things on social media. Tell your child to memorize it and ask it of themselves before they post anything. A little diligence today can save them a lot of trouble tomorrow.

3. Remember the internet is forever.

People don’t always understand the permanency of things posted online. While this applies to both kids and adults, impulsive, short-sighted teenagers are particularly vulnerable to it.

If they make a questionable post that gets taken out of context and publicly shamed, they could be haunted by the screenshots for years to come. If they share racy selfies that get passed around, both sender and receiver could be in trouble under child pornography laws.

The “delete” button is pretty much useless on the Internet. Make sure your child understands this. If necessary, remind them of all of the silly or embarrassing things that they might’ve posted before, and ask if they would still want to be known for these things five years down the line. Remind them that whatever they post today will have to pass the five-year test someday.

4. Watch out for stranger danger.

Unfortunately, lots of predators are on the web. Some are scammers or identity thieves; others have more nefarious purposes, especially for young people.

The simple truth is you can’t protect your teenager from every creep on the Internet. You can, however, teach them how to recognize the signs of one, and make sure they’re comfortable coming to you if they suspect someone is trying to take advantage of them.

Here are a few danger signs:

  • Anyone who offers to send them money or buy them things
  • Deals that are too good to be true
  • Deals that require them to give personal or financial information to strangers
  • Weird links, ads, promos or direct messages

You should also teach your kids to never trust a profile of someone they don’t know. It’s way too easy for a 40-year-old man to pretend to be a 16-year-old girl! It’s called catfishing, and people do it for money, power, influence, sexual gratification or personal amusement.

If your child doesn’t understand the dangers of catfishing, try registering for a fake account yourself to show them how little effort it takes to lie on the Internet.

5. Install controls and blockers.

Lots of parental control software is on the market and doesn’t have to be a bad thing that your child rails against.

For example, your teen might not appreciate any programs that monitor his web activity or limits her screen time, but he or she shouldn’t be bothered by adblockers or virus blockers. As long as you’re not butting into their conversations, they probably won’t care if you know who’s on their friends list.

Content filters are usually the biggest argument. Teenagers don’t want to be restricted from seeing “inappropriate” content like they’re little kids being denied access to an R-rated movie. Try sitting down with them and seeing if you can agree on reasonable content filters for things like violence, pornography and hate speech. R-rated sites might be okay for older teenagers, but you can draw the line at X-rated.

You should probably stay away from things like keyloggers. Unless your child is being punished, that level of scrutiny is only going to foster resentment.

6. Always be willing to listen.

At the end of the day, there’s only so much that you can do to protect your child on social media.

Your best bet at staying “in the know” is to keep an open line of communication with them. Emphasize that you’re always available if they want to chat, discuss, whine, rant or ask questions about something that they’ve seen. Even if it’s just complaining about spam accounts or a bad website design, it’ll build trust between the two of you, and they’ll be more likely to seek you out if and when they have a real problem.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You won’t have a rapport with your child after a single conversation. Just like parenting classes would tell you, it takes consistent, everyday effort to maintain an open and honest relationship about their online activity, but it can definitely be done.

About the author:
Ivana Davies is an educator turned stay-at-home mom to a beautiful 7-year-old girl and a playful 5-year-old boy. She found so much parenting information online that she started her own blog, Find Your Mom Tribe, to share her experiences and struggles as a mom. You can connect with her on Facebook and Pinterest.

This post is part of Families with Grace’s Social Media Savvy series that covers a commonsense approach to handling social media as a parent. Check out these other posts from the series:

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