Safe Social Networking Tips
Once you know that your child is using social media, it is a good idea to sit down with them and have a chat about what is allowed and what is not.
Some of this will be about staying safe, or even being within the law, and some will be ‘house rules’, but it is all important.
You may want to consider limiting access to social media (and possibly online access more generally) to communal areas of the house. This may be a radical suggestion, but some authorities suggest that teenagers should not be provided with online access in their bedrooms. This will avoid problems with social media being accessed late at night, disrupting sleep, although it is hard to enforce with mobile devices.
There is more about this on our page: Screen Time for Children.
You may also want to install some parental controls on your computers and/or router. As well as controls to filter inappropriate content, you may want to investigate tools that will limit children’s access time on social media, or monitor their online activity.
Rules for Safe Social Media (and Internet) Use
There are some very important ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of social media and internet use.
Here are our top tips to help you and your child to stay safe while social networking (and using the internet more generally).
1. NEVER disclose personal information to anyone that you don’t know.
There is a fine line to tread between making sure that your child stays safe, and frightening them half to death.
It is important that children understand that people are not always who or what they say online, and that nobody has any way of checking. In particular, children need to know that sometimes people pretend to be children for the purposes of doing unpleasant things, and that you cannot tell whether someone is who they say they are online.
If you share personal information, you are also vulnerable to identity theft, which can have long-lasting consequences.
Children also need to know that friends may share their information once it has been put online.
As a rule of thumb, if they never disclose personal information, then they will stay (reasonably) safe online.
2. NEVER accept ‘friend’ requests from anyone you don't know offline.
This is a similar issue: you just do not know who someone is or whether they are telling the truth. And on most social media, once someone is your friend, they can see everything that you post.
Avoid accepting friend requests (or, on Twitter, follow requests) from anyone you do not actually know.
3. ALWAYS create strong, distinct passwords for each site.
Yes, it is hard to remember all your passwords. It is, however, probably less of a security risk to write them all down in a book at home than to use the same password for every site, including your online bank.
Teach your children to create strong and distinct passwords for each site, using letters, numbers and other characters each time.
One useful password tip is to use the initial letters of a line of poetry or a nursery rhyme, together with a date that will be memorable to you but not others. You can then make a note of it as the title of the poem plus the importance of the date.
Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow.
Include a date (not your date of birth). Mary's wedding 06/06/2015.
Your password could be: Mhallifwwas-060615
Passwords like this are strong
- the letters do not make a word that will be found in a dictionary
- the password contains both upper and lower case characters (and you could make more upper case)
- There is a 'special character' the hyphen - separating the letters from the numbers
- The numbers are a memorable date for you but seemingly random to others
4. DO use the strongest possible privacy settings when setting up accounts
Your posts should only be visible to your friends.
Even on public sites like Twitter, it is often possible to set your account up so that you can approve people before they can follow you. Check the site’s security advice when you set up your account, and make sure that you take control.
5. DO NOT use your own name or photo to comment on public forums or blogs.
Most forums allow you to create an identity, or remain anonymous for comments. Being anonymous does not mean that you can (or should) say anything rude, offensive or hurtful, but it does mean that controversial comments, or comments that you later regret, will probably not find their way home.
It is also a good idea to use a separate email address for forums and comments (for example, a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo address), and make sure that it is entirely separate from anything connected to your personal identity or financial affairs. This means that it matters less if your account is hacked and your personal information stolen.
6. REMEMBER that things posted on the internet tend to remain there.
This means that it is important not to post anything, or allow yourself to be tagged in any posts or photos, that could later be embarrassing and/or controversial.
Explain to your children why this is important, including far down the line when they are looking for jobs, but also now, when their friends might share content that they thought was confidential.
Explain that even using sites such as Snapchat, where posts ‘disappear’ after a certain time, may not be safe.
Users can save posts or take a screenshot. There will be a trace left somewhere.
Also make sure that your child understands that it may be illegal to post some content. For example, they may wish to share music or pictures, but this may not be possible if these are under copyright.
Certain images are also illegal: it is, for example, illegal to create, share or keep an indecent picture of someone under 18, even yourself.
7. NEVER say or write anything online that you would not be happy to have anyone hear.
It is a very good rule of thumb that if you would not be happy to say whatever you are posting to ANYONE you know, or anyone you might know in future, then DON’T POST IT.
8. ALWAYS check tags before putting them on your timeline or in your own feed
Encourage your children to set up their accounts so that they can check all content before it goes on their timeline or public feed.
Make sure that they are comfortable with the content and know that they can untag themselves if necessary.
9. NEVER include your location in a photo or post.
Including location carries a very real security risk in two ways: first, anyone who can see that post now knows exactly where the person posting is right now. Second, anyone who knows where you or your child lives now knows that you or they are not at home. If your child adds the information that you are all on holiday for two weeks, that provides very useful information to potential burglars.
Even with good security settings, posts can get places that you don’t want. It’s not a risk worth taking.
10. Know where to find help and support if necessary.
Probably the best way to keep your child safe is if they know that you are there and will provide support if they see anything that disturbs them.
Keep communication channels open, and try to be around when they are online, so that you will be the first port of call for any problems. Our page on Communicating with Teenagers explains more.
Tell them or show them how they can report anything illegal or threatening and block access to certain users.
For example, in the UK, many social media sites carry the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) button. If children see anything illegal, threatening or abusive, they can simply click on that button to report it direct to the police.
All social media sites also have a policy of how to report abuse or threatening content. Explain this to your child, and show them how to find it on each site. Tell them if they are in doubt, they can always come to you first, and you can decide together whether to report something and/or to block access to that person.
…no filter or advice can keep your child entirely safe.
There is no substitute for talking to your child and being aware of what they are doing. Check in with them from time to time, even if you are busy, and make sure that you chat about what they are seeing, reading and finding.
Open communication channels mean that you will be their main source of advice as and when it is necessary.