A few years ago, children and teens were drawn to Myspace, then Facebook. Today’s parents see their children involved in Twitter and a plethora of new social media sites such as Google+, Kik, Ask.fm, Instagram, Snapchat and dozens more. How can parents ensure their children’s safety and protection in such public settings?
“Most of the child and teen technology issues can be remedied by parent involvement,” Matt Hutter, president-owner of Iconium Networks, LLC in Twinsburg told parents at a recent seminar of the Organized Parent Education Network at the Solon School Board office. Safety measures range from parental knowledge of their children’s passwords to limitations on what personal information is shared publicly.
In his presentation “Internet Safety – How Do Parents Stay Ahead of the Technology Curve,” Mr. Hutter discussed the sensational growth some of the social media sites have enjoyed.
Instagram, for example, which is popular among teenagers and some young adults, is a cell phone application that attracted tens of millions of users in less than a year. “Its growth is insane,” he said. “It took 18 months from its launch to an offer by Facebook for $1 billion. How many parents saw it coming?”
Instagram’s main attraction is the exchange of photos.
Parents may wonder who is seeing their teenager’s photos, said Mr. Hutter, who has 20 years of information technology experience. “Anyone signed into Instagram. Unbeknownst to you, Susie’s profile can be seen by the whole world.”
Users should not include a full-face photo in their profile, he said. Set posts and profile as “private,” and be sure to turn off the “location share.” Otherwise, he said, “stalkers can Google you, find your house, your school.”
Twitter continues to be very popular with the younger set, he said. “I love the openness of Twitter. But from a parenting point of view, it can freak you out.” Is what your children are “Tweeting” appropriate?
“You need to have candid discussions about what’s appropriate,” said Mr. Hutter, a Twinsburg resident whose children attend St. Rita School in Solon and Beaumont High School in Cleveland Heights. “Encourage critical thinking. Ask them: Would Grandma be OK seeing this? Would you say that to a person’s face?” He also advised turning on the “protected Tweets” feature, which keeps strangers out.
Facebook safety measures are similar to Twitter, Mr. Hutter said. The rule of thumb is: “Be nice, be smart, be safe.”
In addition, “don’t post personal contact information. Don’t post financial information. Don’t post when the family is out of the house. Don’t share things others should not see.”
Several parents in the audience expressed dismay at some of the latest sites.
With Snapchat, “the risks for sexting are huge,” Mr. Hutter said. The site, which is an app, allows a person to send a 10-second video that’s instantly deleted. “Parents need to have a real, live, one-on-one chat with their child about the false sense of security that Snapchat may provide.”
Ask.fm allows users to ask each other personal questions. “The questions can quickly deviate into a sexual nature,” Mr. Hutter said.
Anne Harmody, who serves as parent mentor for the district, added that some websites have been locations of frequent bullying.
“If you feel your child is being bullied or picked on, you can block that person,” Mr. Hutter said. “Blocking shuts down all communications.”
He also advised parents to consider computer protection tools such as Netnanny, OpenDNS, CYBERsitter, and Kaspersky, McAfee and Norton programs.
Cellphones carry their own parental challenges, Mr. Hutter said. Again, parental monitoring and communication help attain safe usage.
Sgt. William McGee of the Solon Police Department, who attended the OPEN program, also urged parents to sit down with their children. “Go through every app and explain what it does.” He emphasized the need for parental monitoring. It’s important for parents to know their children’s email addresses, social media screen names and passwords, as well as “who they’re hanging around with.”
Internet safety tips for children and teens
- Personal Information: Don’t give out personal information without your parents’ permission, including your last name, home address, school name or phone number.
- Screen name: Do not include personal information such as your last name or date of birth.
- Passwords: Don’t share your password with anyone but your parents.
- Photos: Don’t post photos or videos online without your parents’ permission.
- Online friends: Don’t agree to meet online friends without your parents’ permission. They may not be the person they say they are.
- Online ads: Don’t buy anything online without talking to your parents first.
- Downloading: Talk to your parents before you open an email attachment or download software as they may contain viruses. Never open an attachment from someone you don’t know.
- Bullying: Don’t send or respond to mean or insulting messages. Tell your parents if you receive one. If something happens online that makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to your parents or a teacher at school.
- Age for social networking: Many social websites and blog hosting websites have minimum age requirements.
- Research: Talk to your librarian, teacher or parent about safe and accurate websites for research. If you use online information in a school project, be sure to note the website.
Source: Matt Hutter, president-owner, Iconium Networks LLC.
Internet safety tips for parents
- Know today’s web-related risks.
- Have a candid discussion with your children on what’s appropriate.
- Do random Web checks.
- Know your children’s passwords and screen names for social media sites.
- Keep profiles private; do not permit a headshot of your child in the profile.
- Keep location sharing turned off.
- Know the age requirements for social media.
- If your child is being bullied, blocking or ignoring may help.
- Help your child understand the safe use of cellphones.
- Use family protection tools on your computers.
- Monitor, block and remove social media privileges as needed.
Source: Matt Hutter, president-owner, Iconium Networks LLC.