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6 tips to keep your kids safe on social media

What are your kids up to on social media? (Bigstock)
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At a recent brunch with friends, one, who is a pediatrician, mentioned how she recommends that her young patients stay off of social media. Between sexting, bullying and constant use causing people to lose the ability to communicate, it can be considered a health hazard. I don’t disagree.

Apparently, neither do schools. Yesterday, the women at Cool Mom Tech pointed out that New York City Schools implemented Social Media Guidelines to educate students (and let’s face it, parents) on how to navigate their online worlds.

And I understand why. Already, our son was asked (in first grade) to practice math at home through an online program. He loved it. But I had to watch when he did it because he was trying to find “other things” on the internet. A friend with a child the same age found her daughter had Googled “Is Prince George having twin sisters” on the iPad after reading headlines on tabloids at the grocery store. What’s that cliche? Slippery Slope?

The online world and kids is a world that parents have only started to navigate, and it’s not going away. Below follows some smart tips on how to deal with Facebook and kids from a smart mom, whose job is social media.

6 Tips to Safely Introducing Your Child to Facebook—From a Mom Who Works With Facebook Every Day

A large part of my day is spent on Facebook. Not for fun, mind you, but managing client pages. But even outside of work, social media plays a huge role in my life. I’ve been on Facebook since early 2008 when my younger sister set up my profile and assured me I would like sharing information about my new baby with friends. (She was right.)

Since I talk about and use social media so frequently, my children are very aware of the different platforms and what each entails. Now that my son is older and interested in joining the fun, I decided to introduce him to social media one step at a time and had some realizations along the way.

Kids don’t understand the implications of being connected to the broader world—and unfortunately many adults don’t understand either. We must educate ourselves so that we can make social media a fun and valuable part of our children’s lives.

I believe social media and the future iterations of social media are going to play a huge role in our children’s lives and they should be prepared to make good decisions as they navigate interacting with people around the world and sharing personal information.

It should be a parental decision as to when you want to start this process but all platforms require children to be 13 years old to have their own account.

Here are five tips for parents with kids exploring Facebook for the first time:

1. Set up the account for your child
I created my son’s account and I know the login. I login at least once a week to be sure everything looks okay and to verify there aren’t any inappropriate private messages.

2. Set the privacy settings
My son’s account has strictest settings — and Facebook has made it easier than ever to do this. If you click on the lock symbol in the upper right hand corner there is a Privacy Shortcuts dropdown. From there you’ll want to check the following settings:
– Who can see my stuff?
– Who can contact me?

3. Monitor who they friend
My son and I talked about who is appropriate for him to socialize with on Facebook. He only friended people I know and trust, like my mom, extended family, and a few friends. I communicated with these people about my expectations of interaction with my son and also asked them to alert me of anything that looked unsafe.

4. Everything in moderation

Facebook can be a wonderful way to interact with others, but it can also get in the way of real life socialization. It can help a shy child connect in a non-threatening environment, but it doesn’t push them to get over the uncomfortable part of talking with people in person and learning that aspect of socialization. Our family set up rules for usage just as we have with TV, video games, and other screens. Since he can only access Facebook during his screen time, the Facebook limits are built into our general screen time limits.

5. If your child is on Facebook, you need to be on Facebook whether you like it or not
Even if you don’t like social media, it’s likely that your children will eventually ask for an account. You need to know how it works and also friend your child so you can see what they’re doing. If they move on to another social media platform, you need to be there too. And most important of all, engage with them and talk about what they are doing and seeing online.

6. Know the risks and benefits of social media
Obviously, your child is being exposed to a much larger world. That can be an amazing thing and also terrifying at the same time. The opportunity for them to be exposed to new people, new ideas, family members, far off locations, and historical events is a huge opportunity to raise a more worldly child. Our children no longer have to wait for the mail to arrive from a pen pal like we did- they learn and connect instantaneously. They are also exposed to potential predators and scam artists and their naivety makes them easy prey. Be prepared to make this part of your social teachings and to be involved in their education so that they can thrive and benefit from social media. Ask them about it, participate in it. Set the expectation that you’re involved in their online life from the very beginning.

Christine Wilson is the CEO & Founder of MtoM Consulting, a digital marketing agency that brings together her two loves- social media and motherhood. She and her son are currently chronicling their summer vacation on Facebook for friends and family.

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