Ever wonder what the best way to keep your kids safe online is? Us too! That’s why we’re starting a 6-part series, Social Network Safety: A Parental Guide, written by a special guest blogger. Read Part 2 for strategies on how to make your child safer online and tune in for Part 3 in two weeks.

Social Network Safety guest blogger: George Garrick

Faced with the real – and potential – perils, parents want to do all they can to protect their children and help offset the digital risks that accompany social media use.

That’s why, with 50 percent of all 11-year-olds now in possession of social network accounts, nearly half of the parents who participated in our survey strongly agreed that “social network monitoring goes hand in hand with parental guidance, so when I find out something bad I can use the opportunity to explain to my children why it’s bad, so they don’t repeat the same mistakes.”

If this approach is utilized and practiced properly, by the time your child is of driving age (when you really lose control of where they go and what they do), they will be wise enough to know how to use the Internet safely.

With that educational sentiment in mind, we offer several ways parents can help their kids have a safer experience on the social Web.

In any family, the “best” approach relates to the nature and age of the child, the parenting philosophy, and the parents’ familiarity with technology. But, across the board, we believe that these practices are highly useful and productive in virtually all situations where parents are concerned about their children’s use of social networks.

  1. Have an ongoing dialogue with your kids about the online world. Be sure to make them aware of the fact that potentially everything they do or put online is accessible by millions of people globally, and that there are real downsides to their reputation and future if they act inappropriately, or if their friends post damaging pictures or content. Make sure they realize that once something is out there on the Internet, they can’t take it back.  Just ask Paris Hilton. And show them news articles about kidnappings, harassment, suicides, and worse –which originated from contacts with strangers over the Internet. Encourage them to tell you or a trusted adult about anything they see that is concerning, inappropriate, or dangerous. But be sure not to take an “I-know-and-you-do-not” attitude. Listen to your kids and establish a basis for trusted communications; tell them that you trust them and don’t want to spy on them but just want to perform your parental duty of protecting and teaching them.  And finally, make sure they realize that there are large companies who track virtually everything your child does on the Internet, including which sites they visit, and what content they read or look at.  Despite what these companies might claim, and despite laws that are designed to protect consumers, nobody, including the government, really knows which companies keep what information, and when and how it might be used in the future (or stolen by a hacker).
  2. Know who your kids' online friends are. The average tween / teen has 100 - 200 social network “friends,” and it’s not uncommon for kids to accept friend requests from people they do not know.  Accepting new “friends” is exciting to a lot of kids, and many like to brag about how many friends they have online.  That’s why it’s important for parents to review their kids’ friends frequently, and to know their association with your child. If there’s someone you don't recognize, ask your child who the person is, and ensure that your child “unfriends” the person if they are unknown, suspicious, or inappropriate.  A person who is “unfriended” generally does not receive any notification at all that it has happened, so there is no risk of repercussions.  Our research shows this is the single biggest concern of parents, and probably the biggest potential danger to their kids. And, since social networks do not require proof of identity, a 45-year-old convicted sex offender could pose as a football player from a high school across town. This is no different than watching who your kids hang out with after school and on weekends. You are just extending a normal parenting practice to the Internet.


SocialShield is an online monitoring service dedicated to helping parents keep their kids safe on Facebook and other social networks. www.socialshield.com