The first time I allowed my teens on social media was under very strict guidelines and lasted less than a year.
At the age of 13, my twins appeared on a popular kids TV series and because ‘everyone else’ on the show had an Instagram account and the program was down to winning due to viewer votes, I agreed to let them on a joint Instagram account.
Their account was linked to my email address, monitored by me and, because they didn’t have their own phones or iPad at that young age, I was the absolute gatekeeper.
At first, the main thing that bothered me was the huge amount of girls, aged between 12 and 16, who sent my boys selfies and just two words – “rate me?”
What a loaded question to ask a 13-year-old boy! One of my boys looked at one of the girls’ selfies and asked, “What should I rate her, Mum?”
I’m sure I snatched my phone from his hands and yelled, “No way! Don’t rate her. We will keep ignoring those messages because it seems to me that those girls are desperately seeking some kind of validation that someone thinks they are pretty. Do not rate them.”
Apart from the rating selfies, I wouldn’t let my boys post anything without my okay, and I checked any messages they wrote their fans before they sent them. Most of them simply read, “Thanks!”
Now that my boys are 16, it’s a slightly different story – however, my rule has always been that we must be ‘friends’ on whatever social media platform they happen to be keen on.
Here’s a simple checklist for keeping your kids safe on social media:
Make privacy settings very private
The default privacy settings happen to give your posts public exposure which is potentially very dangerous. If you google the privacy settings of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, you’ll be able to help your teen set privacy restrictions.
This is important because…?
If you’ve neglected to update your privacy settings, that means anybody can see your child’s posts. It’s very important to put strict privacy settings on your teen’s account because they might post very personal information – even something as simple as identifying your home address or their school uniform. Online predators always look for identifying signs.
Be strict about friend requests
Your teen might like to accept friend requests from anybody and everybody because they want to have a lot of people following them – it’s a popularity contest, after all, no matter how old you are. But surely there’s something weird when a stranger, particularly an adult stranger, wants to look at your child on social media.
Make sure your kids only accept friend requests from people they actually know, or that they have at least heard of via other friends. Many friend requests just come from spam bots and there are countless fake accounts that are set up for cyber bullying.
My son’s friend loves to play Roblox but recently a police officer visited his school to let kids know that many adults prey on children, and one of their favourite places is Roblox. It’s due to the huge number of kids who willingly add strangers as friends, and those adult ‘friends’ are very clever at grooming the kids and try to convince them to meet up in person.
My son’s friend’s mum quickly deleted more than 300 strangers her son had added on the game and left only the friends that he knew from school.
Don’t post anything before you think about what you’re sending
Educate your kids that they must post very little personal information on their profile and posts – don’t even put your birth date, as kids often like to write their name followed by, for example, ‘2005,’ which lets people know that they are dealing with a 13-year-old. Don’t ever let your teen post a phone number or an address.
Teens will often have a very impulsive attitude towards social media. They might be angry or upset and post exactly what they’re thinking or feeling at the time. (Plenty of adults do this too, and live to regret it.)
Remind your kids they can never permanently delete anything that’s been posted on the internet, whether it’s an embarrassing photo or a rant they later wish they hadn’t posted.
Also remind them never to post details about going on holidays and where you will be holidaying and for how long, as people will realise your home might be empty and ripe for a burglary.
It’s also a good idea to enact a law that if your child meets a new person online, they should never arrange to meet them in person – or, if they do, to tell a parent where and who they are meeting.
Chances are it will not be a person preying on your child but, as our grandmothers always told us, ‘It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Nothing is more important than your child’s safety and if you’re neglecting online safety, then you need to step up your game.