Keeping Your Kids Safe on Facebook

 

Kids on a comupterFacebook is the most utilized social networking site world wide with more than 900 million users.  That’s right, 900 million!  The magic age for kids to be considered Facebook legal is 13.  But of Facebook’s current users, an estimated 7.5 million are under the age of 13 and 5 million are under the age of 10.  Since there aren’t any real requirements for proving your age, it doesn’t take much to open up an account once you’re computer literate (which most of our kids are by the age of ten)!  And earlier this month, Facebook revealed that they are testing technology that would allow children under 13 to utilize the site with parental consent. Oh my!   

Last week on the Childhelp Facebook page we asked you to share the age limits you use for your children, and the results of this very non-scientific poll seemed fairly true to life.  Of those who responded, 2/3 made their kids wait until they were 13 (or older) to join Facebook, but 1/3 allowed their children to join before they were 13.  These findings and those from actual scientific polls show us what we’ve known all along.  Kids are on Facebook.  Yours might not be there yet, but they probably will be someday.  Now more than ever parents need to arm themselves with information about how to keep their children safe on social media sites like Facebook that were designed for adults but are being used by kids.

When and if you decide to allow your child to open a Facebook account, talk with them about the pros and cons of social media.  Then try some of these tips to help keep them as safe as possible:

Know your child’s Facebook password.  I know some of you might argue that this is like making them give you the key to their diary or something.  But I disagree.  Their diary is hidden away in their closet or under their mattress.  It is personal for only them to read.  Facebook is their online presence.  What they say or do online can have a lasting impact on their reputation and their safety.  Something they post or a picture they are tagged in by a friend can haunt them for the rest of their lives.  It’s that simple.  Let them keep the key to their diary, but if they’re on Facebook then as a parent you need to know their password.

Be their Facebook friend.  Okay, so you’re their parent not their friend.  I understand.  But as a parent you need to know what’s going on in their lives.  You need to monitor their online activity in the same way you’d keep an eye on them in real life.  There’s no better way to do that than to be their friend on Facebook.  Yes, that means you’re going to need to keep your own Facebook profile PG, but if you’re a parent then that’s something you might want to consider doing anyway!

Monitor their friend list.  No, I don’t mean you need to stalk everyone they know.  But periodically check their list and see who they are friends with.  I’d suggest telling them that they are only allowed to be friends with people they actually know in real life.  Seems logical to me, but sometimes kids don’t think entirely logically.  So, once you’ve given them some common sense advice on who not to friend, monitor their list and make sure they haven’t friended a total stranger.

Manage their privacy settings carefully.   The goal of Facebook is to help people connect.  To do that, they prefer for users to be as open as possible within the Facebook world to make sharing easier.  But for kids, you have to be much more restrictive.  To do this log in as your child (see why you need the password?) and go to Privacy Settings (located in the drop down menu in the upper right corner).  There you should pay attention to two things, Control Your Default Privacy and How You Connect.  For Privacy Settings, choose “Friends.”  For How You Connect, select Edit Settings.  Be as restrictive as possible, selecting “Friends Only” with one exception.  For who can “Send you Friend Requests” I’d choose “Friends of Friends.”  On your timeline Facebook now allows you to select who gets to view your status updates and pictures as you post them.  Make sure your children always choose “Friends” and never choose “Public.” 

Keep up with new Facebook features.  Facebook is famous for rolling out the latest and greatest technology to help us connect with even more people more efficiently than ever before.  That’s all well and good, but some of that technology is a little questionable when kids are involved.  For example, do you really want your kids tagged in pictures or checked in at locations by their friends?  What about facial recognition software?  I’m not a fan of that feature.  To manage these features visit Privacy Settings and then Timeline and Tagging to select what options you want for your child. 

Facebook safety for kids (and parents) can be overwhelming.  I’m know, I’m right there with you.  But parents today have to be diligent about keeping kids safe online.  Our kids are there, we’ve got to be too.

What tips do you have for keeping your kids safe on social media sites?  We’d love to hear your ideas as we work together for the protection of our children.

Dr. Polly Dunn is a child psychologist, mom of four, and blogger.  For more of her ‘Perfectly Imperfect Parenting Solutions’ you can find her at www.ChildPsychMom.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

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