Social Networks and Kids
Kids want to be part of social networks. It is important to discuss social networks with them before they join. Be sure all appropriate privacy controls are enabled. Kids can get into trouble or ruin their reputations when they share private feelings and thoughts or inappropriate photos or videos. Challenge your kids to show respect for themselves and others by minimizing the amount of information they share.
Social networks are online communities where people can create a profile; communicate with others; and share thoughts, photos, videos, web sites, and other content. The key element is all of these sites is "sharing." The strenght of every social network is that it helps its members share ideas, thoughts, images, and videos with other members.
The number of social networks keeps growing, but here are the ones you are most likely to hear about and will want to be familiar with:
- Facebook: The largest social networking site, with over 1 billion users. Facebook provides allows its members to share messages, photos, videos, events and much more
- Twitter: Allows users to send short messages (no more than 140 characters long) know as "tweets."
- YouTube: A video-sharing site, where users can upload, share and comment on videos
- Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram: All three are sites that allow users to share and comment on photos
- MySpace: One of the original social networking sites, MySpace is much less active that in the past.
There's no question that social media can potentially be a good way for kids to communicate, collaborate, and share. However, if kids are not careful, social networks can also have some significant pitfalls too.
Like technology itself, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with social networks. However, the majority of problems happen when kids begin to share their private thoughts, feelings, photos, or videos online. Without thinking through the consequences of their actions, kids can damage reputations, privacy, and even their safety. Physical safety is especially a concern since many of the major social networking sites allow users to post their exact location. It doesn't take much to provide inadvertent information to a robber or predator. Because some of these issues are not something that younger kids readily think about most mainstream social networking sites only allow kids over 13 years old to use their service.
While it may be a temptation, kids should never lie about their age just to join a social network. Let's emphasize this again: kids should never lie about their ages to join a site. Your kids need to understand clearly that these safeguards are in place for their protection. For example, on Facebook privacy works differently for minors (kids 13-17) than it does for adults. If a kid lies about their age, those additional layers of protection are not available. Younger kids under age 13 should stick to age-appropriate social networking sites that feature strong privacy controls.
Social Network Topics to Discuss with Your Kids
As parents, there are several points that are important to discuss with your kids before they join or interact with any social network. Here are some of the major issues make sense to be actively discussing in your home:
- Protect privacy and reputation: Talk with your kids about their reputation. They should understand that any information they post can become public. Posts on friends' walls, TXTs, IMs, etc., everything can be copied or forwarded. Kids should clearly understand that If you don't want it public, don't post it or send it.
- Respect for self and others: Even though the Internet might allow kids to experiment with anonymity by creating obscure screen names, teach kids that using anonymity to degrade or attack others is wrong. The Scriptures teach us that we are all accountable for our actions wherever we are. The Internet is no exception.
- Site Features: Different services have different features. Some are cool to use, but those cool features could be used in ways you didn't intend. Talk with your kids about what they like about a particular site or service, what people do on the site, and challenge them to think about the different ways those features could compromise their privacy. For example, just because you can take a picture and then have it automatically post where you were and the time you were there doesn't mean that photo and the location services can't be used to compromise your family's safety or privacy.
- Think safety: No one has a right to know your personal information—ever! Never post where you are or where you are going. Above all, never meet up with someone you met online. Some sites may sell or share your information with marketers.
- Find a balance: For kids, their virtual world is important. Don't trivialize that importance. Rather, help kids find proper balance between real and virtual worlds.
Social Network Privacy Settings
Anything you do or post on a social network reveals something about you. Therefore, your privacy is one of the main concerns about social networks. The vast majority of social networks have privacy settings that give you some control over the information visible to others. Some sites offer more features than others. However, when it comes to protecting your privacy think about the following:
- Follow the "stranger" rule. Post and share only the things you would feel comfortable sharing with a complete stranger. Assume that anything you post online will be seen, sooner or later, by an unintended person. Security breaches, system glitches, changes in a site's policies, or other unforeseen events may compromise the privacy of anything you have posted.
- Restrict your profile. Show a streamlined version of your profile to non-family members and friends. Everyone doesn't need to see everything about you.
- Think about who you allow to be your "friend". Just because someone sends you an invitation to be their friend or join their network doesn't mean that you need to accept that invitation.
- Read the social network site's privacy guide. While this may involve some extra effort, these guides normally tells you what privacy features are available and how to set certain key profile settings.
- Use Privacy Settings. Be sure to configure the site's privacy settings to help protect your identity. This is the first step to take once you join a site to make sure you don't expose any personal information accidentally. Be sure to double-check your settings. Facebook, for example, lets you see your profile as others would see it so that you can confirm your settings are working the way you want.
- Disable options you don't need or want. Social networking sites offer many features. If you are not using a feature, turn it off. The more features you have enabled, the less secure your profile can become.
When should I allow my child to be on a Social Network?
Technically speaking, most major social networking sites (at the time of this writing) will not allow kids under the age of 13 to have accounts. Yet, that doesn't mean that it's appropriate for all 13-year-old children to join social networks. It depends.
Some parents feel that age 13 is fine while others vehemently object to accounts no matter what a person's age. What works or doesn't work in your family is ultimately your parenting decision. Whatever decision you make, it's something that you will need to weigh given your particular situation and circumstances. Oftentimes, kids will be the ones to press the issue; and if you yourself use social networking or if their friends do, then naturally they will want to join too.
If you thinking that it might be OK for your child to be on a social network, how might you proceed? We recommend that children over 13 years of age should be allowed to join social networks only if they are able to follow all the safety and privacy rules outlined above and you yourself are able to be actively involved in guiding their use of social media. If that is not possible, then think very seriously about allowing them to have an account.
We also recommend that you take the time to learn more about safety on social networks. For example, Facebook offers a Family Safety Center (www.facebook.com/safety) with information and resources for parents and children over 13. Another helpful resource is the Family Online Safety Institute's Platform for Good (www.aplatformforgood.org). The Platform for Good aims to connect parents, educators and teens, providing them with tips and resources so that kids make responsible, safe choices in the online world and beyond.
All children under age 13 should use only age-appropriate social networks, which tend to offer tighter controls and increased privacy options to help protect kids and their privacy. Even if a site says it's made just for kids, no child under 13 should join a social network site that does not adhere to COPPA standards.
Some Social Networks Designed Just for Kids
If you feel it's appropriate for your child to be on a social network, but you want extra protection for younger kids, then look towards sites made just for kids under 13. However, before you allow your child to sign up, be sure to check out the site first. Make sure that you are comfortable with the site, what it offers, and that it fits into your Christ-centered parenting goals. CommonSense Media has assembled a list of social networking sites for kids that are a good place to start. You can find that list at: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/website-lists/social-networking-kids
- Use privacy controls to limit who sees personal information.
- Pictures can be "tagged" by others, violating privacy.