Like many parents who use the Internet to communicate to friends and family, I’ve found social media sites becoming a presence in my daily life. Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of touring British Columbia educating thousands of students, teachers, and parents about the positives and negatives of its use.
The Internet isn’t just on your computer. Video game consoles and hand-held devices can become communication tools to the entire world, often with little thought to privacy and safety.
Think your child might be too young for this to be a concern? I’ve encountered a four-year-old on Facebook whose mom and dad didn’t know their other children had set up the account so they could play Farmville together. Technically, children have to be 13 to be on Facebook, but who’s checking?
Below are some guidelines to help parents establish firm Internet guidelines with even their youngest children.
Set up accounts with a password you can remember and share with your children
Children are entitled to privacy. Unfortunately the Internet does not provide a world of privacy, which can make it dangerous. Older children may be hesitant to share passwords with parents, but if you instill password trust at an early age your children may be more forthcoming. For older kids, have the usernames and passwords written on a piece of paper, seal the paper in an envelope and sign the back with your child. Put the envelope on the fridge and assure your child it will be read only in the event of emergency. If your children see you being trustworthy, hopefully they’ll follow suit and keep those passwords secure and intact.
Do not become your child’s “friend” so you can see everything
Your child, if savvy enough, can limit what you see through profile settings. And being a parent is primary. Open communication on what is appropriate to say and do online should be your starting point. Look at your own online behaviour – remember monkey see, monkey do.
Communicate only with people you know in real life
Affirm this with all of your kids, no matter how old they are. Children who befriend strangers online become vulnerable to outside suggestion and influence. If you wouldn’t want your child speaking to strangers in the street, why allow it on the Internet in your own home? Consider who your child is speaking to while playing online games like X-Box, PlayStation 3 and Farmville on Facebook.
Avoid status updates with too much personal information
“Off to the Mall” is a statement of destination to Mom and Dad. “Of to the Mall” in a Facebook status update is an invitation to the person who really likes your child’s photos to meet your child face-to-face.
No posting of photos
Do you want strangers going through your family photo album? Equate real life to the internet as much as you can. If it seems weird in real life, why would you do it online?
One of the biggest misconceptions with Facebook is that secured accounts and your content is for friends only. By uploading a gallery you’re not only generating a link for your friends on Facebook, but for the friends of friends and potentially every user of the Internet. For example, one mom posts photos of a birthday party. At first, only her friends can see the photo album. Then one of her friends posts a comment to a photo. A wall update is made and now that second person’s friends can see the picture. If a comment is made to a comment, the link generates again and is distributed to the next list of friends. How many people have seen the birthday party photos now?
Speak about your Internet rules to the other adults in whose homes you child spends time
Set the standard in your circle of parents and don’t accept “they all do it” as an excuse – one child harmed by unsupervised online interaction is one child too many.
Jesse Miller speaks nationally on social media awareness and is the founder of Miller Consulting Services.