We live in the age of social media, at a time when even children as young as nine years old own mobile devices and several social accounts. According to statistics by The Guardian, over 97% of children aged 12 use social media. These networks and online spaces present many dangers for young, underdeveloped, and easily impressionable minds struggling to discern the difference between what’s good for them and what’s not. This only adds to the challenge of parenting in the digital age. But not to worry. If you’re a parent, guardian, or caregiver, searching for tips on improving online safety for kids, here are some important ones to implement right away.
It all begins with parental awareness
Back in the day, social media for us typically meant MySpace or Facebook. The two terms were interchangeable. Fast forward today and the world of social media has only gotten bigger and more complex in terms of the variety of options available.
To kick off this guide, Sitalakshmi Girls School in Madurai recommends that the starting point for parents is learning about the different social media options out there and how they work. Some popular ones include:
- Yik Yak
- Tik Tok
- Reddit, to name a few
Before your child gets onto any social media site, create an account for yourself and get a feel of its environment. That way you can figure out what type of content gets featured on there and if it’s appropriate for children.
Keep them off social media until they’re old enough
There’s a reason why phishers and scammers target children. They are easy to manipulate and pull one over on due to limited cognitive abilities and a shortage of real-world experience.
As such, setting an age limit ranks among the most important social media guidelines for parents. Most social platforms set a minimum age of 13. Experts from the American Psychological Association agree with that stipulation
But that doesn’t mean you should give your child full access to these platforms without you keeping an eye on what they do when they’re old enough. I recommend test-driving social media before greenlighting it for regular usage despite age because children’s minds don’t mature at the same rates.
Put in place appropriate privacy settings
Did you know that more than 1.5 million US kids suffered identity theft in 2022? This presents yet another major risk that hides within social media’s digital wildlands.
To ensure your child doesn’t fall victim to this menace, parents should implement privacy settings that ensure child safety on social media. Here’s how to do that:
- Limit audience reach on social media posts: Ensure posts are visible to just your child’s buddies or people your family trusts
- Turn off location sharing: Some social media apps track the user’s location and automatically update this when your child shares a post. Switch these settings off
- Fine-tune tagging settings: Has your social media account ever been tagged with posts of inappropriate content from someone you don’t know online? Configure settings that allow you to cross-check or review tagged posts before they go public so your child doesn’t get tagged with abusive or adult content
Remember, social media platforms regularly remove and update privacy settings and policies. As a parent, make it a habit to regularly review privacy settings so you’re not caught off guard.
Help your child set robust passwords
A birth date, first name, or sequential numbers or letters like “A B C D” don’t make for really safe social media passwords. A third party can easily figure these out via trial and error.
So what makes a strong password for kids? Something that they can easily remember but still be too hard for external forces to crack? I say shot for at least 12 characters in terms of character length.
Within that length, ensure the password includes a combination of special characters, numbers, and letters (both upper and lower cases). You can write this password down and store it in a safe place around your home should your child forget. While you’re at it, teach your child not to share this password with anyone, even their best pals.
Teach them not to post personal details
A great part of protecting children on social media entails training them on what to post and what not to post on these networks. Your kid might have the best intentions but still unwittingly give out information that could jeopardize their safety.
Therefore, you should teach your child about the type of information that they can’t post online, such as:
- Home addresses
- Phone numbers, and so on
In the same breath, make sure to let your child know that it is not okay to bully their peers online or use abusive/demeaning language. Help them nurture their social media etiquette.
Tell them not to accept just any friend request
When I was a kid, having many friends on social media was an accomplishment. The one who had the biggest friends list typically enjoyed the biggest bragging rights. Little did I know I was inviting strangers and possible stalkers and phishers, into my social circles. Fortunately for me, nothing bad happened.
Ensure your child doesn’t make the same mistake. Teach them to discern every friend request and seek your counsel should they be unsure if to decline or accept it. The same goes for unsolicited messages from strangers, more so those asking for the kind of sensitive information that we’ve discussed.
It’s also important to keep in mind that people with ill motives on social media can use pseudo-accounts with familiar names to dupe your child into letting them into their networks. Ensure your child is aware of these threats. Beyond simply discerning requests, you should also help your child to generally learn to make good decisions on social media since you can’t always be there to guide them at every moment.
Parting Shot – Limit screen time
Social media can be beneficial just as much as it can be disadvantageous. Too much time on these platforms can cause social, motor, and cognitive skills to atrophy. Overall, it can contribute to stunted brain development as children require real personal connections to truly grow and thrive. So sometimes protecting children on social media involves encouraging more time away from screens. Instead, Sitalakshmi Girls School advises you to shepherd your child’s attention toward sports, hobbies, and interests in the real world.