Moms: 10 Must-See Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe on Facebook

Social media advances open channels of communications that impact people’s lives in positive ways, but there are also risks associated with connecting in this way.  Savvy users know the ins and outs of the system, but children are not always prepared to defend themselves against web-based threats.  For concerned parents, following strict safety protocols provides the best assurance against harmful consequences for younger family members.

Photo by karindalziel on Flickr

Photo by karindalziel on Flickr

Facebook is a relatively open forum, allowing users to post personal information about themselves.  If the proper controls are not used effectively, sensitive information can fall into the wrong hands.  Young children are especially vulnerable, but even teens familiar with the platform take missteps along the way. To limit their exposure to unnecessary risks, follow these basic guidelines for keeping kids safe on Facebook.

1. Protect Passwords

Passwords play a vital role in internet security, so attention should be paid to this Facebook feature.  First, passwords should be selected sensibly, rather than falling into the standard patterns of using pets’ names and birthdays for safety codes.  Instead, mix up your signals with words that don’t point to you, and include both upper and lower case characters in the passwords you select.  Special characters like dollar signs and ampersands strengthen security too, adding additional layers of complexity to password choices.  Passwords should be changed periodically  to hedge against familiarity that lets your guard down.  Parents must specifically retain their children’s Facebook passwords, helping kids manage their safety.

As you work with your children on Facebook, stick to the same password principles you apply to other online security situations.  The object of your password selection is to do the most you can to discourage intruders, frustrating them into leaving your child’s account alone.  Computer programs used by online attackers sometimes cycle through hundreds of password combinations every second, attempting to decipher your code.  Never use your own name, or a combination of your first, last or middle name as a password.  It is simply too easy to link information like your name to your password.  Always use combinations of letters and numerals in your child’s password, making it harder to crack.  longer is better too, creating statistical advantages for each character you add to your password.

2. Monitor Facebook Activities

Nobody wants to overstep their boundaries enforcing children’s internet usage, but monitoring kids’ online behavior is the only way to insulate them from Facebook opportunists.  Parents in-tune with photographs posted by their kids have censorship abilities that can head-off problems before they happen.  And monitoring interactions with other users provides assurances that kids are not running with the wrong Facebook crowds. Free monitoring tools are available online, and for parents wishing to distance themselves from the effort, professional monitoring services do the job for hire.

It is important for parents’ to remember that kids have no expectation of privacy online, especially concerning social networking and sites like Facebook.  Your duty to protect your kids at all costs is relieved by the virtual nature of online platforms where your kids participate.  Check-in on your child’s Facebook usage from work if you have to, but don’t give them a pass for their online hobbies.  Friends of your children are also good resources for keeping an eye on your own kids.  Check friends’ accounts periodically to see what they are sharing about your children.

3. Censor Yourself

The easiest way to avoid problems with Facebook is to filter what you share via the site.  Despite its personal nature, connecting friends and family in intimate ways, Facebook is a public clearinghouse for information – viewed by hundreds of thousands of users daily.  Actively limiting what you make available to Facebook users is the only way to maintain control of sensitive photos and information.  Children share too much anyway, even during face to face interactions, so extra care must be taken to censor them online.  And teens with the world by the tail sometimes need to be reminded of the permanence of the internet, and the need for self-censorship.

Facebook users are advised to post only things they’d happily share with just about anyone.  Assuming that posts will be respected and taken at face value is the wrong approach.  Facebook users preying on children thrive on bits of information they can use to get their way.  Showing their vulnerabilities online opens the door for predators waiting to take advantage of your children’s trusting natures.

4. Learn and Use Facebook Safety Features

Facebook’s efforts to protect you online are less effective when users are in the dark.  To get the most from them, learn your options for security, so that you are an active proponent for your child’s online safety.  When in doubt, change settings to “only friends”, limiting access for unapproved visitors.  And always think of Facebook as an evolving resource, staying on top of security changes as the develop.  Features like Active Sessions and Login Approvals add extra layers of security to Facebook, protecting children from unauthorized access.  Features like Facebook’s one-time password may not seem child-centric, but every effort to bolster your online security protects them too.  The disposable passwords are designed for instances when you don’t want to sign in using your real information.  When using public computers or accessing Facebook from handheld devices, App Passwords are another option for protecting your Facebook sign-in information.

Trusted Contacts are maintained by Facebook users to ensure there is a safe contact available at all times.  Designated users are assigned Trusted Contact status at your own discretion, for help when you are unable to access your Facebook account.  Simply contact them when you forget your password or login information, and they can provide them for you.

5. Know What Others are Posting About Your Child

Facebook photos and other details about your children’s lives don’t always come from the horses mouth.  Friends and classmates are often guilty of handling these items loosely, leaving undesirable links to your child on the World Wide Web.  In cases where others post the wrong message about your kids, it might be necessary to have them remove the photos or sensitive information.  While it is easy to limit your own sharing, monitoring others output can be more difficult.  Make sure your children are well-versed on what is and isn’t appropriate for friends to share online.

Photo by wetwebnetwork on Flickr

Photo by wetwebnetwork on Flickr

Losing control of your online identity can happen quickly, especially for children, whose social lives are much more micro-managed than most adults. Unfortunately for some, things start unraveling before there is time to set up damage control.  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” could not be more true than itb is on Facebook.  That compromising photo, or ill-advised Facebook post are no threat at all, provided they do not exist.  Trusting immature intuitions is not a sound strategy for parents – even the most well-behaved kids fall prey to moments of poor judgment.  The key is to equip them with the tools for knowing when an innocent friendly exchange might be a mistake that follows them forever online.

6. Don’t Friend People You Don’t Know

Managing who you are linked to on Facebook sets the tone for your online identity.  Don’t automatically friend Facebook users just because they want to link to you.  Instead, actively screen your children’s friends so that they are precisely the folks your kids are online to connect with.  Fake profiles are used to run Facebook scams, phishing for information and creating spam opportunities.  Don’t allow opportunistic criminals to prey on your children’s accounts under the guise of friendship.  The same goes for tagging people in photos and using other facebook options.  These features are designed with adults in mind, and are not designed as random clicks for kids.  As an adult representative, it is your duty to keep your children up to speed about Facebook features, so they are used properly and don’t call unwanted attention toward your kids.  And stay abreast of changes, like a recent Facebook addition allowing hashtagged posts to become clickable.   As features change, past posts and future ettiquette do too.

7. Protect Personal Information

There is really no reason to post sensitive information in your Facebook profile.  Phone numbers, residential addresses and private information should not be visible to the public.  Putting these bits of data out there for all to see creates easy access for internet scammers.  Even birthdays should be guarded, released only to those you know and trust.  While the social element of a happy birthday may seem innocent enough, date of birth is a prized piece of personal information for identity thieves and others using Facebook to mine data.  Further protection is added by guarding email addresses and running up to date anti-virus programs on your child’s computer.

There is no limit to the creativity employed by thieves and other internet scammers preying on children.  Consider your child’s identity to be a big puzzle, with bits of personal information representing its individual pieces. Your job then, is simple:  Keep the pieces out of the hands of the bad guys.  Each vital statistic helps predators create the mosaic they’d like to use to gain something from your kids, so even the most innocuous details should be coveted by parents.

8. Guard Your Child’s Location

Revealing too much about your location and the activities you are engaged in can be problematic online.  When you check-in on Facebook, it is not necessary to identify where you are, or more importantly – where you aren’t.  Much has been made about location-oriented social sharing apps, and for good reason.  Outlining your vacation itinerary on Facebook, for example, is a bad idea.  When schedules are shared thieves know you are not home, so your house automatically becomes more attractive as a target.

Emphasize the importance of location anonymity to your under-aged Facebook users, encouraging them to use other modes of communication to share certain information.  Facebook users targeting children like to see location posts from minors, because they often contain indications that parents will not be present. Opportunists’ sophisticated efforts to get into kids’ inner circles are greatly assisted by notifications that combine locations with activities, such as “Hey world, we are in Dan’s basement playing online while his parents cruise the harbor until 11:00 o’clock.”

9. Reinforce Good Judgment

Even though Facebook employs added security features for teen accounts, there are still ways for kids to get in over their heads.  Parents and kids need to work together to stay safe online, rather than as adversaries.  Taking into account the prominent roles computers play in modern teens’ lives, it becomes clear that a strong-handed approach might not be your best bet.  Keep communication lines open, learning from your children as you go.  Judgment calls successfully navigated by kids should be rewarded and reinforced, providing incentives for future conservative Facebook behavior.

There is a good chance your own kids know more about Facebook than you do, so you are in it together.  While this might be okay with you, it is natural for kids to push-back at certain ages.  As you and your family embrace new technology, don’t forget that it is uncharted grounds for everyone aboard.  Discover the best ways to incorporate advances into your lives together, so that everyone is on the same page.  If your child has different ideas about the ways he or she would like to proceed online, help them get what they want from the experience, without compromising their safety.

10. Create Your Own Facebook Page

Familiarity breeds security online, so parents should participate on Facebook to better understand it.  Friend your own kids, especially younger ones, and have discussions about online boundaries.  The fine line parents are sometimes required to walk extends online, making sure kids know you are there, while respecting their space too. Having a page also lets you lead by example.  Your posts are available at all times, for your own kids and others to use as guidelines for proper Facebook etiquette.

What you choose to do with your Facebook account is up to you, but more than one parent signing-up to monitor children have become avid users of the site, finding benefits they may not have anticipated.  Whatever you do, make sure your Facebook presence doesn’t hang over your kids like a scarecrow looming in the garden.  While there are plenty of risks to be found online, Facebook and other social sites are primarily conceived to provide enjoyment for users, which is diminished by over-bearing parents.  And don’t lose sight of the adult nature of Facebook, which is not technically designed for participation by users under the age of 13.

 

Brad
 

Brad Hopper is a student of politics - past and present. Looking at historical figures and their roles in government helps guide our understanding of public service, so we strive to learn lessons from past leaders. Political scientists, like Hopper, contribute to the continuum of effective government by studying today's public policy, always giving a nod to political role-players found throughout history.

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