Social media use among teens has become almost universal, and nowhere is this more evident than in the proliferation of photographs and social media posts shared by older kids and teens. Because the rise of social networking has been so rapid and recent, however, the possible pitfalls of social media use are often poorly defined and overlooked. According to a 2012 survey by Pew Research Center, 91% of teens report posting a photo of themselves on social media profiles, but only 9% of older teens report being “very concerned” about third-party access to the information on their social media accounts. This amounts to a great deal of identifying information that potentially opens them up to interaction with or exploitation by strangers.
Enabling parental controls and monitoring internet usage are very effective ways to lessen the risks, but there are even more basic measures parents can take in the meantime to help ensure that their kids aren’t compromising safety through the information they share on social media.
Block Location Tagging on Photos and Videos
Any device that is equipped with GPS is capable of revealing exactly when and where your child’s photos or videos were taken. This information makes it shockingly easy for a tech-savvy predator to pinpoint the location of your child’s home or school. The tagging feature can be turned off in the settings on your child’s device, but it’s important to disable location features on social media apps as well.
Avoid Sharing Identifying Information
Any photo or profile entry showing the name of your child’s school, address, phone number, or email address can fall into the wrong hands and be used to locate your child or initiate unwanted contact. Kids often don’t consider the potential for identity theft when posting photos or information online either. Sharing their birthdates (month, day, and year), or sharing photos of a driver’s license, diploma, or birth certificate can make your child especially vulnerable to having his or her identity stolen.
Keep a High Profile
Maintain some sort of access to your kids’ social media profiles, whether you have their actual login information or use your own social media accounts to follow theirs. You can also cut down on some of the opportunities for kids to share information that’s out-of-bounds by keeping computers in a central area in the house, where they can be easily seen and monitored.
Don’t Post Vacation Photos until after the Vacation
Kids and adults alike love to document their travels with timely social media posts and photos, but it’s really never a good idea to advertise that your home is empty or that you’re not in your usual environment. Doing so could lead to your house being robbed, or—even worse—your family to be targeted by criminals while traveling.
Don’t Share Anything You Wouldn’t Want on a Billboard
That may sound like a strange guideline, but many kids (and adults) fail to recognize that what is shared online never goes away. Parents should teach their children about the concept of a digital footprint, which is a term used to refer to the collection of information that can be traced directly to them. Photos, social media posts, texts, and emails are all part of the digital footprint, and merely deleting them does not effectively erase them from the permanent record. Even if a photo or written communication isn’t sexually explicit, it could still lead to serious consequences in the future. Explain to your kids that if they wouldn’t want their parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, or future employers to see what they’re sharing, then it shouldn’t be shared in the first place.
Social networking is a crucial aspect of how today’s older kids and teens interact with each other, and denying access to it entirely may not be the most practical or desirable approach for every family. Staying vigilant to the dangers of online oversharing, however, can make a critical difference in how positive your child’s experience on social media will prove to be.