Social Network Safety

How to Make Your Child Safer on the Social Web

Written on October 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm , by

Ever wonder what the best way to keep your kids safe online is? Us too! That’s why we’re starting a 6-part series, Social Network Safety: A Parental Guide, written by a special guest blogger. Read Part 2 for strategies on how to make your child safer online and tune in for Part 3 in two weeks.

Social Network Safety guest blogger: George Garrick

Faced with the real – and potential – perils, parents want to do all they can to protect their children and help offset the digital risks that accompany social media use.

That’s why, with 50 percent of all 11-year-olds now in possession of social network accounts, nearly half of the parents who participated in our survey strongly agreed that “social network monitoring goes hand in hand with parental guidance, so when I find out something bad I can use the opportunity to explain to my children why it’s bad, so they don’t repeat the same mistakes.”

If this approach is utilized and practiced properly, by the time your child is of driving age (when you really lose control of where they go and what they do), they will be wise enough to know how to use the Internet safely.

With that educational sentiment in mind, we offer several ways parents can help their kids have a safer experience on the social Web.

In any family, the “best” approach relates to the nature and age of the child, the parenting philosophy, and the parents’ familiarity with technology. But, across the board, we believe that these practices are highly useful and productive in virtually all situations where parents are concerned about their children’s use of social networks.

  1. Have an ongoing dialogue with your kids about the online world. Be sure to make them aware of the fact that potentially everything they do or put online is accessible by millions of people globally, and that there are real downsides to their reputation and future if they act inappropriately, or if their friends post damaging pictures or content. Make sure they realize that once something is out there on the Internet, they can’t take it back.  Just ask Paris Hilton. And show them news articles about kidnappings, harassment, suicides, and worse –which originated from contacts with strangers over the Internet. Encourage them to tell you or a trusted adult about anything they see that is concerning, inappropriate, or dangerous. But be sure not to take an “I-know-and-you-do-not” attitude. Listen to your kids and establish a basis for trusted communications; tell them that you trust them and don’t want to spy on them but just want to perform your parental duty of protecting and teaching them.  And finally, make sure they realize that there are large companies who track virtually everything your child does on the Internet, including which sites they visit, and what content they read or look at.  Despite what these companies might claim, and despite laws that are designed to protect consumers, nobody, including the government, really knows which companies keep what information, and when and how it might be used in the future (or stolen by a hacker).
  2. Know who your kids’ online friends are. The average tween / teen has 100 – 200 social network “friends,” and it’s not uncommon for kids to accept friend requests from people they do not know.  Accepting new “friends” is exciting to a lot of kids, and many like to brag about how many friends they have online.  That’s why it’s important for parents to review their kids’ friends frequently, and to know their association with your child. If there’s someone you don’t recognize, ask your child who the person is, and ensure that your child “unfriends” the person if they are unknown, suspicious, or inappropriate.  A person who is “unfriended” generally does not receive any notification at all that it has happened, so there is no risk of repercussions.  Our research shows this is the single biggest concern of parents, and probably the biggest potential danger to their kids. And, since social networks do not require proof of identity, a 45-year-old convicted sex offender could pose as a football player from a high school across town. This is no different than watching who your kids hang out with after school and on weekends. You are just extending a normal parenting practice to the Internet.

– GEORGE GARRICK, CEO, SocialShield

SocialShield is an online monitoring service dedicated to helping parents keep their kids safe on Facebook and other social networks. www.socialshield.com

The Social Web: Potential for Abuse Among Teens

Written on October 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm , by

Ever wonder what the best way to keep your kids safe online is? Us too! That’s why we’re starting a 6-part series, Social Network Safety: A Parental Guide, written by a special guest blogger. Read Part I to find out the potential for abuse among teens and tune in for Part 2 next week.

Social Network Safety guest blogger: George Garrick

The rapid and exceptional growth of the social Web presents hundreds of millions of people with wonderful new capabilities and experiences; yet, like many great new Internet services that come along, it has the potential for abuse, especially among younger teens and pre-teens. But perhaps most scary is that younger teens and pre-teens are typically the victims of such abuse, whether it comes from fellow youths, or from adults who may or may not have a prior record of preying on children.

Parents, for their part, are especially concerned about all this, citing contact or solicitations from strangers as their greatest fear. While the dangers associated with being preyed upon by strangers are clear, concerns about online harassment, or “cyber-bullying,” as well as a number of other risks, such as disclosure of personal and/or family information, are close behind.

Indeed, in two national research surveys that my company, SocialShield, recently conducted, most parents revealed that they are, indeed, worried that social networks make their children vulnerable to potential dangers like contact from strangers, innocent disclosure of their children’s physical location, and other personal or private family information – often without the child realizing it, or having the judgment to determine what to post and what to keep private.

In fact, did you know that most photos posted by your child on a social network contain detailed information about where the photo was taken? This means that a person with devious intent can easily “map out” where your child, their family, and their friends typically hang out, right down to which corner of the playground your family prefers. (It’s easy to disable this feature, but most parents don’t know how.)

Also, many teens (and, of course, pre-teens), as well as many parents, do not realize that much of what is posted on networks like Facebook becomes “public” because anyone with a browser can see it – not just the user’s “friends.”  Again, you can restrict access to information with privacy settings, but many people don’t know how to properly use them.   And, in any event, a good “rule of thumb” is that you should never put anything on the Internet that you would not want the whole world to see. (Just ask a few celebrities, whose names I won’t mention.)

Other key areas of parental concern include: negative or improper content posted about their children, including possible reputation-damaging posts that could affect eligibility for colleges and jobs; exposure to inappropriate content on topics like sex, drugs, violence and racism; harassment, either by or against your child; and membership in “groups” or clubs with hateful or inappropriate themes such as anti-gay bias.

– GEORGE GARRICK, CEO, SocialShield

SocialShield is an online monitoring service dedicated to helping parents keep their kids safe on Facebook and other social networks. www.socialshield.com