Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, are fun ways for your child to keep in touch with friends and meet new people. However, your child should be careful about the information he puts on these sites because it can sometimes lead to embarrassment and incidents of stalking, identity theft, and harassment. Share these social networking tips with your child to ensure his well-being.
Change privacy settings. The privacy settings will vary from site to site. Some social networking sites are totally public so anyone with access to the Internet can read the information that is posted. Other social networking sites offer levels of privacy. If possible, your child should set his profile to allow only his friends access to view it. Also, he should limit the information included for the site's search engine.
Think before posting. Your child needs to be careful about what he posts on these websites. Pictures, comments, and blog entries can be saved and forwarded on to others. He should only post pictures and text that he wouldn't mind having other people see, including college admission officers and prospective employers. On the same note, he should leave offensive text (i.e. curse words, insults, etc.) out of his blog entries and comment postings to friends. He should also avoid posting information that reveals too much about himself, such as his home address, his phone number, his e-mail address, etc. Your child should never post dates or times that he will be at a certain location. There are malicious people in the world who peruse these sites to find their next victims. One can never be too safe!
Be wary of strangers. Because the Internet provides a sense of anonymity, it's easy for people to fake their identities and motives. If your child begins communicating with a stranger on a social networking site, he should be careful about the information he shares with that person. Your child should be extremely cautious if that person requests a face-to-face meeting. Children under the age of eighteen should never meet face-to-face with someone they met online. If your student is over the age of eighteen and wants to set up meeting, he should make sure the meeting takes place in public and should take a friend with him. If the online friend is legit, that person should have no problem abiding by your child's boundaries.
Choose quality over quantity. Encourage your child to be selective about whom he chooses to add to his friends list. He doesn't have to add every person who sends a friend request. If, at any time, someone on his friends list or someone requesting to be on his friends list starts harassing him, tell him to block that person from contacting him and report the harassment to the social networking site.
Create secure passwords. Make sure your child knows to create passwords for his social networking accounts that can't be easily deciphered. Passwords should include a mixture of capital letters, lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. If your child has a hard time remembering all of the characters of his password, another secure option would be to use a passphrase. A passphrase should be at least 14 characters long but doesn't need the mixture of numbers, symbols, etc. A passphrase of "My mom and dad are awesome." is much easier to remember than "M3rcyM@" and it's just as secure. Remind your child to always keep his passwords private. He should be alarmed if he is ever asked to enter his password to view certain profiles or videos on social networking sites. These may be fake popup windows created by hackers so they can hack into his computer or online information.
When used cautiously, social networking sites offer creative ways to interact with friends and come across new people. When used carelessly, these sites may expose people to embarrassment, identity theft, online predators, etc. Encourage your child to utilize these etiquette and safety tips when on social networking sites. With proper usage, these sites can be as harmless as they are popular.