The popularity of social networking continues to grow among kids. Social networking sites can provide a secure way for kids to connect with each other, but they can also be exploited for any number of nefarious purposes. Better Business Bureau recommends parents take specific steps to keep their kids safe online.
Kids of all ages are getting into social networking. According to iStrategy Labs the number of users on Facebook that are between the ages of 13 and 18 grew by 88 percent in 2009 to 10.7 million. While Facebook and MySpace require all users to be at least 13 years old, some sites are geared for children even younger.
“For some parents, their kids know more about computers and the Internet than they do, however, it’s important to remember that kids aren’t old enough to understand all of the various threats that lurk online,” said Alison Southwick, BBB spokesperson. “Even if they’re intimidated by technology, parents need to supervise their child’s computer use in the house as well as educate their kids on how to play it safe online.”
BBB offers the following tips for parents who want to help keep their kids safe online:
Explain the Difference Between Sharing and Oversharing – While social networking is about sharing photos, thoughts and experiences, explain to your kids that they should never share personal information such as phone numbers, address, bank account numbers, passwords or their Social Security numbers. Also talk about what constitutes inappropriate photos or language and stress the fact that—while you may be able to delete them—you can never fully take them back.
“Never talk to strangers” applies online too – One of the first rules we teach our kids is to never talk to strangers; remind them that the rule holds true when online. Even though chatting with a stranger online can seem harmless, the relationship can evolve and grow until the stranger has earned your child’s trust—and can then exploit it.
Set strict privacy settings – Social networking sites let users determine who they want to share information with. Talk to your child about restricting access to his or her profile to only friends or users in safe networks such as their school, clubs or church groups.
Keep the channels of communication open – Let your kids know that you are always ready to talk if they are ever threatened, bullied or feel uncomfortable about an experience they had online.
Join them online - If you haven’t already, set up your own account in the same social networks. This will help you better understand what social networking is all about. You can also then “Friend” your child and keep an unobtrusive eye on what they are doing.
Federal law requires sites collecting identifying information from children under 13 to get a parent’s consent first. Report concerns about data collection from children under 13 to the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus at www.caru.org/complaint.
You can learn more about how to keep your kids safe online at http://www.onguardonline.gov/topics/net-cetera.aspx.