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Like a lot of parents, I’ve been struck by how active—though not savvy—my kids and their friends are with social media.
It’s a little like we’ve given our kids keys to a new car and said, “Have fun! Be safe!” without actually teaching them to drive.
Will they crash? My kids’ friends have Instagram accounts that let them post pictures of themselves and their friends—which they do, innocently—all over the Internet. These photos are often geotagged, making it easier for creepy pedophiles to locate them in the real world.
The FBI estimates that there are a half million pedophiles online everyday—predators who are sophisticated about “grooming” children and teens: forming online relationships before they start soliciting personal or sexual information, or before they try to initiate a meeting. They often pose as kids the same age.
There are risks to kids’ social media use even beyond the threat of pedophiles. To name just a few: cyberbullying, either as a victim or perpetrator; socially inappropriate posts that could later be humiliating to themselves or their friends; exposure to media that frightens or otherwise harms them; and the time they lose online—when they would gain more by reading, playing outside, or deepening their relationships in real-life.
All children need online social skills training. We may not be able to teach our children the ins-and-outs of Instagram, but we do need to guide them through the basics of interacting online—even if that means we need to learn the basics ourselves, first.
Which is exactly what I’m trying to do: Teach myself enough to stay just ahead, or at least stay aware, of what my children are doing. While we parents might not know exactly how every new social media app works, we do have better judgement than our children about the appropriate use of these awesome technologies.
This post from my Greater Good blog and the one that will follow next week offer parents guidance in keeping their kids happy and safe online. To get started, here are five principles to keep in mind.