What parents can do to keep their kids safe while using social media

(WFLA) — Social media sites and apps are places that encourage people to post profiles of themselves—complete with pictures, interests, and even journals—so they can meet like-minded friends. Most also offer chat rooms. Most sites and apps are free; some restrict membership by age.

According to the FBI, these sites and apps can be appealing to child sexual predators, too because the apps offer easy and immediate access to information about potential victims. Even worse, kids want to look cool, so they sometimes post suggestive photos of themselves.

The FBI receives hundreds of complaints per year about children who have been victims of criminal incidents on social media networks. These incidents include but are not limited to:

  • Adults posing as children, or children who are about the same age as the victim, who travel to abuse the child, or use the information to cyber-bully.
  • Adults posing as children who convince the child to expose themselves and/or perform sexual acts over webcam and later extort the child to perform additional acts.

According to an internet safety pamphlet recently published by The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), a survey of 12 to 17 year-olds revealed that 38 percent had posted self-created content to social media, that included photos, videos, artwork, or stories.

Another survey of 10 to 17 year-olds revealed 46 percent admit to having given out their personal information to someone they did not know.

The FBI says that the likelihood that kids will give out personal information over the Internet increases with age, with 56 percent of 16 to 17 year-olds most likely to share personal information.

Children often don’t realize that they cannot “take back” the online texts and images they post. They also may not know that individuals with access to this information can save and forward these postings to an unlimited number of users.

Kids may not realize the potential ramifications of their online activities. They can face consequences for posting harmful, explicit, dangerous, or demeaning information online, including being humiliated in front of their families and peers and being suspended from school. They can also face criminal charges and be denied employment or entry into college.

What can you do to keep your children safe?

Most importantly, be aware and involved:

  • Monitor your children’s use of the internet; keep your internet computer in an open, common room of the house, and check their phone.
  • Tell your kids why it’s so important not to disclose personal information online.
  • Check your kids’ profiles and what they post online.
  • Read and follow the safety tips provided on the sites.
  • Report inappropriate activity to the website or law enforcement immediately.
  • Explain to your kids that once images are posted online they lose control of them and can never get them back.
  • Only allow your kids to post photos or any type of personally identifying information on websites with your knowledge and consent, this goes for apps as well.
  • Instruct your kids to use privacy settings to restrict access to profiles, so only the individuals on their contact lists are able to view their profiles.
  • Remind kids to only add people they know in real life to their contact lists.
  • Encourage kids to choose appropriate screen names or nicknames.
  • Talk to your kids about creating strong passwords.
  • Visit social media networking websites with your kids, and exchange ideas about acceptable versus potentially risky websites and apps.
  • Ask your kids about the people they are communicating with online.
  • Make it a rule with your kids that they can never give out personal information or meet anyone in person without your prior knowledge and consent. If you agree to a meeting between your child and someone they met online, talk to the parents/guardians of the other individual first and accompany your kids to the meeting in a public place.
  • Encourage your kids to consider whether a message is harmful, dangerous, hurtful, or rude before posting or sending it online, and teach your kids not to respond to any rude or harassing remarks or messages that make them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused and to show you the messages instead.
  • Educate yourself on the websites, software, and apps that your child uses.
  • Don’t forget their cell phones! They all have the functionality of a home computer.

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