How to Protect Your Kids Online – The Risks of Social Networking Sites

Love it or loathe it, social networking is here to stay. From leading sites like Facebook and Twitter to the more up and coming mobile networking apps like Instagram and SnapChat, it seems like kids of all ages have accounts on this ever growing range social networking sites. Recent reports have even shown that children as young as ten are using online sites to meet up, hang out and stay in touch with friends, classmates, and in worst case scenarios, strangers.

Through these sites, kids post pictures, gossip about their peers, play games, download apps, and engage in a variety of activities that you as a parent might have no clue about. Due to the global nature of the internet, kids are exposed to a number of risks every moment they are online. Use these tips to stay informed and learn more about the murkier aspects of social networking sites. In this new digital age, the responsibility falls on parents like you to find out what you can do to protect your child online.

Online dangers for kids include:

  1. Cyber bullies:

    Cyber bullying and harassment are common social networking hazards and can take on myriad forms.

    Examples - Facebook fights with vulgar and insulting language; repeatedly sending mean and nasty IMs; tweeting a damaging piece of gossip about a classmate; creating ‘Hate’ pages to tease someone you don’t like; impersonating someone online and sending hurtful messages from their online id.

    What can you do if your child is a victim of cyber bullying?

    • Ask your child not to give out personal information on chat rooms, blogs or IM profiles.
    • Make sure they never share their IM or email passwords even with their best friends.
    • Ask them to save and show threatening or nasty messages to you or to another trusted adult such as a teacher, instead of responding to it themselves.
    • Show them how to block cyber bullies or to simply log off when they are being harassed.
  2. Predatory adults:

    Studies show that adult and even teen predators lurking unseen in cyberspace tend to target children with low self-esteem, or those who reveal too much personal information online, or those who frequently visit online chat rooms. However, even if your child has done none of these things, they might still be approached by online predators.

    Examples – Showing unsuitable content in various forms; developing inappropriate relationships with children or underage teenagers; using the internet to arrange real time encounters with minors.

    What can you do to shield your child from cyber stalkers and predators?

    • Computers should be in common areas instead of in bedrooms.
    • Do not allow your child to create online profiles, especially in chat rooms. This way they won’t be listed in online directories and are less likely to be approached by strangers. Generally, it is best to discourage kids from connecting online with people that they do not know in real life.
    • Monitor how much time they spend on the internet and establish predetermined limits to usage.
    • Set up blocking and filtering software on your computer.
  3. Identity thieves:

    The victims of identity theft are getting younger by the day. While most adults have long been aware of the risks of online identity theft – someone fraudulently obtaining your credit cards, Social Security number, or other financial information to mess up your finances – identity thieves are now on the prowl for underage victims who won’t have a clue about the damage done to their credit history for months or even years. This can have serious repercussions on your child’s financial future. Not surprisingly, in most cases the perpetrator is a person known to the young victim.

    Examples – Combining the child’s Social Security number with a different date of birth to establish a new identity altogether. This is a common form of identity theft and can be used to run up credit card tabs, rent apartments, buy cell phones or engage in other forms of fraud.

    • Keep your child’s personal information safe in the same way you keep yours. Do not leave it lying around or store it in easily accessible places.
    • Do not divulge your child’s Social Security number unless you are convinced it will be adequately protected.
    • Caution your child against sharing personal information online.

While there is much to say in favor of social networking sites, never make the mistake of downplaying the negatives of this internet phenomenon. Safeguarding your child online should be your first priority.

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