While some parents believe allowing kids to have a social media account of any kinds is absurd, the reality is that many kids today have one as soon as they’re old enough to. All too often, kids get a Facebook, Myspace, Twitter or Instagram account even before they’re old enough simply by lying about their age and going behind their parents’ backs. Parents tend to work long hours, leaving their children home alone, in the care of a relative or friend or waiting at a local library after school. Even parents that are home with their children may not be aware that their children are online and chatting with hundreds of strangers online each and every day. Whether you allow your children to be online or not, the best choice is to be proactive and provide them with ways to be safe online while they’re at home, at school o r at a friend’s house. Below are my top 5 social media tips for kids, compiled with information from the FBI and the Amber Alert GPS website:
1. NEVER give out personal information. If your parents allow you to get a Facebook account, it is because they trust that you’ll be responsible and keep your family’s safety in mind. In order to do this, you have to be sure not to share any personal information on your Facebook page that may tell a stranger where you live, how to contact you or what your full name is. You can have a nickname on your Facebook profile that your family and friends will recognize to protect your identity from strangers.
2. DON’T add anyone that you don’t personally know and consider a good friend. If someone sends you a friend request and you don’t know them personally, do not accept them as a friend. Believe it or not, many people on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are lying about who they are and the pictures they use are not really them. They may look cute, they may say they go to your high school but all of it may be lies. Bottom line is, if you don’t recognize the picture and don’t know for sure who they person really is, do not add them as a friend. Someone that says they are a 16 year old boy on their page may really be a 60 year old man waiting for the chance to cause you harm.
3. NEVER agree to meet anyone in person. If your friends on Facebook and Twitter are really your friends, they’ll call you when they want to meet you at the mall, go to a movie or hang out at the park. Do not agree to meet anyone that you meet online, regardless of what they may offer. Some perpetrators (people that want to cause harm to others) lie and say they are directors, producers and celebrities that want to hire you as a model or actor. Do not believe this and immediately stop all contact with this individual.
4. TELL. If you encounter anyone online, whether in a chat room, on Facebook or in an email, that scares you and makes you feel uncomfortable, immediately tell an adult. Not only will you be saving yourself and your family from harm but you’ll also be helping protect other children online, If you do not feel comfortable telling your parents, tell an adult. It can be a teacher, a counselor, a police officer or anyone that you and your parents would trust.
5. DON’T TAG PHOTOS and don’t allow others to tag you. This may be a really fun feature on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but what it really does is tell strangers where you are, where you live, what area you hang out in and where they can find you. Set your account settings to prevent anyone from tagging you on their photos and do not ever tag yourself. Your friends will know where you are by simply seeing the photo and asking you in person.
For more information on safety tips and online protection for your family, see our article titled Internet Safety Tips for Your Family.