How To Have “The Talk” With Your Kids: Part I- Privacy & Safety

How To Have The TalkLet’s face it- your children are going to be on the Internet whether you want them to be or not.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad things out on the Internet that children can get caught up in fairly easily.  In our series on having “the talk” with your children we’re going to begin with one of the most important things that you can teach your children about the Internet: privacy and safety.  The “bad guys” on the Internet are going to have a much harder time targeting your children if they follow some simple privacy guidelines.

We will also talk about “Safe Sharing” to help your kids avoid posting something online as youngsters that can effect their online reputation for the rest of their life.  So without further adieu, let’s get started describing the problem.

How To Spot a Creeper

“OMG did Melanie just friend you?  She’s so cool- she loves Selena Gomez almost as much as I do!”  Melanie sounds like a cool girl, except for the fact that Melanie is actually a 57 year-old man from Omaha Nebraska.  You see, it’s pretty easy to make a new profile on any social network including Facebook and Twitter.  It’s even easier to input false information into the site as well.  The problem is, children don’t always know how to spot the tell-tale signs that someone is not who they say they are and could end up talking to someone who they probably shouldn’t.  Here are some easy ways to spot a false account:

All Friends No Followers

Does the person who just followed you on Twitter follow 10,000 other people and only have 2 people following them?  Does the person who just friended you on Facebook have one friend and nothing written on their wall?  If you answered yes to either of these questions then you most likely have a stalker (or a very poor brand) on your hands.  What they tend to do is create a profile and send out a lot of “feelers” to see who will bite.  If your son or daughter friends them back, it’s a signal to the weirdo that they don’t know much about online privacy and they can exploit them.  Explain that it’s best to stay away from these types.

No Profile Information

Most people input at least a little bit of profile information when they create an account on social networks, this way they can find people that they’re friends with in those networks.  When a creeper creates a social profile they tend to leave out a whole lot of information because, well, they don’t have actual information.  Make sure your kids are on the lookout for profiles that skimp in the information department.

Lots of Links

Did the last five things that this person sent out include a link to a website to win a free iPad?  In case you couldn’t figure this on out yourself: profiles that share links int his manner are probably just trying to spam people and aren’t actual people.  Even though this person most likely isn’t going to be stalking your children, giving up information to these characters can easily result in your child’s or your profile being targeted by other scams or crazies.

Chat Rooms and Forums

Even though programs like AIM have dropped in popularity in recent years, it’s important that your child knows how to safely navigate through the various new chat rooms that have recently emerged.  The basic rules go a little bit like this: if your child is below the high school years they probably shouldn’t be on chat rooms that utilize video (See Chatroulette’s Penis Problem) because they are a hotbed for creepers of all walks of life.  For other chat rooms that allow simple text-chatting it’s pretty easy to follow this one rule: if you know who you’re chatting with then feel free to act normally, otherwise (if you don’t know the person) then use a filter.  By “use a filter” I mean that you shouldn’t give any any personal information and think carefully about what information you’re sharing in your discussion.

Even though chat rooms aren’t as popular as they once were, it’s still important that you know the problems that are associated with them.

Privacy Settings/Sharing Personal Info

A big problem with children on social networks is that they don’t always know who they should friend/follow and who they should ignore.  This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that children also don’t usually know how much information is “too much information” when it comes to social networks.  The equation is pretty standard: TMI + Bad Followers = Potential Disaster.

Make sure that your kids know that there is some information that they can tell to their friends (where your going after school, your phone #, etc.) and that this information should not be shared in a public fashion.  As a parent, you should probably dictate what information you’re comfortable with your children sharing and what information they should leave out of the picture. Luckily most social networks let you control who sees the information you put out, and even give you the ability to share different information depending on how close you are with certain groups of friends or family.  Go through the Twitter privacy settings and read Mashable’s Facebook Privacy Guide with your child and help them understand why they should utilize these privacy settings and why they’re important.

Having The Talk

Now that you know the information, the fun part is actually sitting down and having the conversation with your child.  It’s important that they know you aren’t telling them to stay off of social media, but rather that you’re encouraging them to do so in a safe way.  Here are the key takeaways from this article:

  • Only Friend Friends: A good rule of thumb is that if they aren’t friends with them in real life, then they probably shouldn’t be friends with them online.
  • Become The Expert: If you don’t already have accounts on prominent social networks then get one with your child! (You’ll both be learning and you can monitor as well)
  • Monitor Privacy Settings: Make sure your kid’s privacy settings are properly configured on all of their social networks (read Twitter’s privacy settings and Mashable’s Facebook Privacy Guide).
  • Know The Enemy: Know how to spot a creeper and make sure your children do as well.
  • The Chatroulette Effect: Video chat rooms and children do not mix.
  • Be Open: Let your children know how  much personal information you’re comfortable with them sharing online (and with whom)

In sum, the best policy when it comes to these things is to be honest with your children.  Don’t be afraid to tell them that what they say on these social networks can stay with them for the rest of their lives- you don’t want them to tarnish their online reputation before they even know that they have one.  Good luck, and if you have any more tips or advice for us please let us know in the comments section below.

Stay tuned for our future How To Have “The Talk” articles- We’ll be talking about Sharing/Etiquette, Cyber Bullying, and How to Control Your Online Reputation. 

  • Anonymous

    Creepers are really good at finding information. Some people have their FB profiles closed, but you can still view their photos. Photos containing school/club logos, landmarks or captions like “my little brother, Nate” all give people who may want to do harmful things some valuable information.

    Great article. Not teaching kids how to use the internet safely can (and does) have a huge impact.

    • Completely right- that’s why it’s so important to know Facebook’s (and other social network’s) privacy settings as they evolve.  The biggest key is to be smarter than the creepers!  Thanks for your comment.