Social media and social networking websites these days are an integral part of growing up. If you have a computer or a laptop at home, even if your kids use contemporary smart phones like the iPhone, there is a great possibility that they are already accessing various social media and social networking websites. Do you ever wonder how to protect and keep your kids safe on social media? The ugly reality of our time is wherever there are kids there are people to exploit them. On social media and social networking websites like Facebook and Orkut it is easier to approach kids and misguide them. They are one of the most vulnerable sections on the Internet simply because they are not aware of the implications of their decisions. By nature kids are curious, adventurous, rebellious and more open to different thoughts. These are both strengths, and unfortunately, vulnerabilities.
Listed below are a few things you can do to keep your kids safe on social media
Constantly talk to your kids
This doesn’t just help you keep your kids safe on social media it also helps them in the actual world around them. The sooner you begin talking to your kids the better it is. It’s never too late provided you do it tactfully. The basic idea is creating such a comfort level that whatever is happening in their lives they should be able to share it with you no matter how awkward it is. In fact, nothing is too awkward when it comes to the safety of your kids.
Don’t shy away from taboo subjects
Every new generation finds the taboos of the previous generation outdated. This can be good as well as bad so keep your mind open. Even if you don’t agree with a particular subject keep the flow of communication going. Don’t digress from the topic or put a stop to the ongoing discussion just because you’re not comfortable talking about the subject. If you don’t talk to them they will talk about it with someone else and grown-ups can be really manipulative around kids. Do your own research if you have to; with massive amounts of information just a few clicks away from you, you have no excuse for not being aware of the issues concerning your kids.
Pay close attention to the warning signs
Is your kid growing reclusive? Does he or she spend more time on computer or smart phone and less time talking to normal friends, siblings and you? It might be a phase but if it stretches to a longer period of time you must take it as a warning. When kids find someone interesting and fascinating on social media and social networking websites they want to spend more and more time interacting with that person and that person too demands more a more of their time. Kids who are being misguided on the Internet are too desperate to get onto the computer as soon as they are home or in proximity of a device that they can use to log onto their preferred social networking website. They might also be constantly talking on phone, texting or checking their phones and e-mails every 5 minutes. If you know your kids you can see the warning signs easily. Anything unnatural should set off the alarm bells.
Create your own social media profile
There are some kids who have a strict policy against including their parents as their friends on Facebook, Twitter or Orkut, there are many who eagerly add their parents as their friends. For this you will have to win their trust. They shouldn’t feel embarrassed by your presence among their friends.
If you can handle it properly you can also create an alternative persona and befriend your kids through that persona. This is often not advisable but you creating a persona and defending your kids is far more preferable to somebody else creating a false persona and befriending your kids. Besides kids feel more open to people of their own age rather than to their parents and other grown-ups (unfortunately there is an exception when it comes to people against whom you want to keep your kids safe). Creating an alternative persona must be resorted to just while you’re trying to break the ice with your kids. Once you know that they trust you and can easily confide in you there is no need to maintain an alternative persona.
Put some restrictions on the usage of computers, tablet PCs and smart phones
There is no valid reason for your kids to be using devices that are constantly connected to the Internet all the time. At certain hours they need to communicate with their friends, they might also have to do some research for their home work and studies, and they may also like to explore other interesting things on the Internet but this cannot go on and on. If you can put the computer at a place that is not isolated, preferably in the family room, do so. Don’t provide individual computers; one computer for three kids is sufficient enough. This will teach them to share resources and finish their work within the time constraints. It will also prevent them from indulging in activities that require total privacy.
Keep yourself abreast with current technologies and trends
Kids feel encouraged to explore uncharted activities most of the times when they know they won’t be caught. This is because the kids have an impression that their parents are not as comfortable with technology as they are and you need to shatter this myth. Let them know that it is your generation that manufactures, markets and distributes the gadgets they flaunt.
Encourage alternative activities
Recently the New York Times published an article about a family that has totally stopped watching TV and using the Internet and their quality of life has markedly improved. It is not possible in every household but you can encourage your kids to indulge in alternative activities instead of constantly sitting in front of the TV or the computer or fiddling with the cell phone. You can have a book reading time when everybody in your family sits down with his or her own preferred book and read for a while. Later on you can talk about your books and have discussions. You can also play games in the old-fashioned way although you might face initial resistance which is natural. You will have to be creative in order to sell this new idea.
The social dynamics are fast changing due to social media and social networking websites and people need to come up with new ways to keep their kids safe from prowlers on the net. First it used to be instant messengers and online boards and now it is social media. Most of the kids who become vulnerable on social media do so because there is no communication among the family members. Start talking to your kids before it is too late.