Here's what you need to know about keeping your child safe online.
With so many computer applications out there and data available at the touch of a screen, you may not realize all the potential dangers of social media facing your children. Cyber expert Tyler Cohen Wood, a public speaker and the author of "Catching the Catfishers," explains, "Children now have an entire life history, down to the pregnancy announcement before they were born, on social media." The ramifications of this can be far-reaching, which is why it's good to educate yourself and set guidelines for your family.
Here are five dangers of social media you'll want to talk about with your kids:
- "Stranger Danger" -- Take It Seriously
Children may find it hard to judge strangers they meet in person, and it's even harder to tell friends from foes online. "It's very important that parents with younger children are aware of what apps their kids are using and what those apps do," says Wood. "A lot of those applications that target young children have a social media aspect to them. People trying to target children will use those apps, as well."
Stress to your kids that they should not interact with strangers on these apps, and explain that many people on social media are not who they say they are. You should also monitor your kids' Internet usage to ensure their interactions are only with real-life friends.
- (Over) Sharing Information -- Don't Reveal Too Much
Another point to address with your kids, according to social psychologist Dr. Susan Newman, author of numerous parenting books and "Psychology Today" blogger, is to make them aware of how much they're revealing about themselves online.
Dr. Newman stresses, "You want to be sure your child isn't saying where she is, where she goes to school, where she's going to be with her friends." Discuss the dangers of revealing too much information on social media, explaining that it gives ammunition to strangers with bad intentions.
Also, avoid bypassing age restrictions for kids, and adhere to the terms of service for social media applications. For example, Facebook does not allow anyone under the age of 13 to create an account.
- Hidden Info in Photos -- Beware of Posting Pics
Children should know the potential risks of what they're posting online. Photographs are no exception. Wood says it's important that children don't send photographs unless they're 100 percent sure it is a friend they're communicating with. Photos contain EXIF data -- information about the camera you took the photo with.
This is important to know, says Wood, because "someone can use that data to pull the exact geographic location of where that photo was taken." With young children, it's better to restrict the use of photos on social media or make use of the parental controls many applications possess.
Parents of grade-schoolers should discuss the fact that photographs contain location information, which could potentially help a stranger find them.
- The Staying Power of Social Media -- Consider the Future
Dr. Newman says, "Parents need to give children some understanding of exactly how powerful social media is. ... Whatever you put out there is there forever, and that can have consequences down the road." Wood emphasizes that social media postings can later "be accessed by colleges, potential employers and insurance boards."
- Cyberbullying -- Ask, "Will Others Get Hurt?"
Dr. Newman suggests writing a list of rules about social media usage, discussing them with your kids and posting them near the computer. This checklist should include these questions: "Is this going to hurt someone's feelings? How would I feel if this message came to me? Does this feel threatening in any way?" She urges parents to have a conversation with their children about bullying, enforcing the idea of not joining friends who are gossiping about or teasing others online.
"You want to keep the dialogue between you and your child as open as possible," she says. "Tell your child, 'If you're unsure about a message, don't send it, bring it to me.'"
Wood says, "One of the scariest things a parent can say to me is, 'My kid's so smart with his phone that I have no idea what he's doing.'" Make sure you know!
For more on kids' safety, check out Are Chat Rooms Safe for Kids?
Lauren B. Stevens is a freelance writer, whose work can be found on The Huffington Post and Scary Mommy. When she's not wrenching the LeapPad from her toddler's grasp, she can be found blogging about parenting at lo-wren.com.