10 Tips for Monitoring Kids' Social Media

Posted on: 05.08.2015.

Author: Ana G

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It is becoming more common to see children of very young age using Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. As these social interactions become part of their everyday life, parents are rightfully concerned with the safety of their young children using the Internet.

It is a parent's job to protect children from the dangers of the Internet and social media, and to monitor the usage of various social outlets by children. Without proper parental guidance and supervision, children may find themselves exposed to dangerous people, inappropriate content or harmful information of the digital world. There are constantly new and untested social media sites popping up all over the Internet, possibly putting unsupervised children in danger.

According to a study from the online safety advisory website Knowthenet, ''More than half of children have used an online social network by the age of 10''.

Shy children may benefit from using social media by being able to develop communication skills in a non-threatening social environment, without face-to-face interaction. Also, social media is great for keeping in touch with friends and family who are far away, but it is also an easy way for some bad people to influence young children. 

Shawn Marie Edgington, author of "The Parent's Guide to Texting, Facebook, and Social Media" reports that it is the parent's "responsibility to parent around the technology". It is impossible to monitor everything children do every minute of the day. However, by using proper monitoring tools and engaging in a talk with the family about Internet security, making correct choices, and the dangers of social media, parents can stay alert to a child's Internet activity and ensure their safety.

In the daily fight regarding Internet safety, adults can be on the winning team every time, if they follow these ten tips on how to keep kids safe when using social media sites.

1. Choose the Right Time

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It is ultimately the parent's decision whether to allow the child to join a social media site or not. Some children are not mature enough to join a social site at the age of 13, so it is important to pick the right time and maturity level of the child to allow them to join these sites. There are a vast number of sites and not all social sites are of the same nature.

There are sites targeted specifically for children, while others are suitable only for the adults. For example, sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have a minimum age requirement of 13, which follows the "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act". This protective law blocks companies from collecting personal information about children under 13.

Unfortunately, there are no safeguards in place that would prevent children from creating a false profile when they are younger than 13. Many children at the age of 13 are ready for the responsibility of having a social media profile and will flourish and gain from the supervised interaction. Unfortunately, age doesn’t necessarily mean maturity, so some children may not be ready for social sites at that age.

2. Check the Privacy Settings

It is up to parents to ensure their child's safety by adjusting the privacy settings on the computer to the highest security level. Most social media sites have strict privacy settings and tools that limit access to messages, photos and information about the user. It is important to take the time to adjust these settings and further define who can send messages to the child, who can befriend them, and who can see their personal information.

Decisions need to be made as to which sites the child can visit. It is important for the parents to take the time to limit the access to all websites that are unwanted, and monitor their child's activity with random checks.

3. Utilize Monitoring Software

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Using monitoring technologies is a good way to keep track of a child's Internet activity. For example, monitoring software such as "Net Nanny" and "Surfie" gives the parent control over media sites, letting them block chats, monitor friend activity and filter content.

It is important to let the child know that these controls will be in place. These software programs have safeguards against cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying, privacy issues, and reputation-damaging videos or photos. Some of these safety systems can also alert parents to the exact keys typed by the child, time spent online and overall computer usage data. Monitoring systems will send reports on a daily or weekly basis, chronicling the child's Internet activity. Keeping track of passwords and login information for all of the child's accounts is necessary as well.

4. Keep It in the Open

The Internet activity center (computers and laptops) should be placed in a public area of the home such as the living room or the kitchen. Having the Internet activity limited to an open family space allows easy monitoring of the online habits of children. This way, not only will the parents be able to keep track of their child's activities while making dinner or doing other chores, but the child will also be well aware of a parent's presence and therefore, less inclined to investigate Internet areas that are prohibited.

5. Set Ground Rules

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Before allowing access to social media sites, have a discussion with your child about what is expected of their behavior online and inform them that it is not safe to share everything with everyone online. It is important to set clear rules on what content is allowed and what type of behavior is considered unwanted on social sites.

This discussion should include issues such as the amount of time spent online, time of the day when the Internet activity is allowed and the off-limit sites and the reasons behind them being restricted. Also, it is important for the parents to set the rules regarding social media etiquette: sharing personal information online, posting pictures, talking to strangers, using vulgar language, harassing others and similar actions.

Children need to know that their actions in the cyber-world have real world consequences. Therefore, they should never use inappropriate language, post pictures that are embarrassing to themselves or someone else, or write false information about other people. You can even sign a contract with your child. There are numerous online contract templates that you can download and go through with your child to ensure they understand them before signing. This is a great way to bring some order and regulate your child’s Internet activity and behavior on social media.

6. Guarding a Reputation

Teach your children about the permanence of the online world. They should be aware that everything they put on the Internet stays there forever as their digital footprint. It is up to parents to emphasize the importance of posting only proper content and engaging in polite conversations on the Internet.

Children need to understand the impact their social activities might have in the long run; their postings determine what others think of them and once they post the information, it may affect future communications with college administrators, scholarship committees or prospective employers. Therefore, a proper strategy for selecting the content that goes online should be developed, in order to ensure the child portrays themselves to the world in the best way possible.

7. Educate Yourself

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If parents don't understand the world of social media, they won't be able to properly monitor their child's online activities. Therefore, it is time to embrace the technology and learn more about it. One can easily find out more about the particular social media site by visiting the site itself, searching for related news about it, reading online reviews or by discussing the site with friends and other parents.

It is possible to join the site and add the child as ''a friend''. This is a great opportunity for parents to monitor the content their child is posting and sharing, and the interactions they are having with others online. This way, parents will surely get a better sense of what their child is doing online, and feel closer to the online world. You should know that most children do not like this, however. They will expect that you might post something that would embarrass them in front of their friends. Make sure to explain that you will not tag them or post anything that their friends could tease them over.

8. Discuss Online Dangers

The kids today start using technology at a very young age and they need to be warned about the dangers lurking online. Talk to your children about the dangers of giving out personal information about themselves on the Internet. Adults have to keep an open line of communication with the child, while monitoring their activity.

It may seem as if having this type of discussion may scare your child. However, it is better for the child to be scared and aware, rather than a target of cyberbullies, or worse. It is essential to watch for warning signs of cyberbullying or similar issues in children, such as being withdrawn from friends and family or being reluctant to inform a parent of what they are doing online.

9. Follow Activity

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Tracking the child's activity is possible by checking the browser history, cookies and cache on the computer, in order to find out the sites that the child has been visiting. By entering the child's name in a search engine, the parents can easily find out if the child has public profiles on social media sites.

Just as it is important for the parents to know the friends their children hang out at school, it is necessary to know their online friends. A random check will let parents know the type of people and sites the child is interacting with. 

10. Communicate Often

It is easy to stay informed about your child's online activities by making a habit out of sitting down with them while they are online and discussing the sites they are visiting and their online behavior. Having the computer in an open area is fruitless if you don't pay attention and frequently engage in a discussion with your children regarding their online experiences, both good and bad.

It is important for the parents to know which sites their children visit, which social media networks they belong to, how often they use them and who their friends are on the site. This also includes discussing the sharing of information when visiting these sites.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that social media sites are here to stay. There is a need to stay on top of changing technology in order to manage children's activity on the Internet. It is necessary to teach children how to act in society as well as in cyberspace, by taking the time to sit down with them and to teach them the proper way to interact in both. Under their parents' supervision, the children are sure to learn what it means to be a good digital citizen and how to stay safe in the online world.