This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
Kids today experience technology in a wholly different way than their parents did. They live in a world where you can reach the Web 24 hours a day from mobile phones and where ordinary people become celebrities overnight because their YouTube videos go viral. They don’t remember the days of dial-up Internet or 20-kilobyte modems.
In a sense, they’re the Internet experts. They’ve been using the Web for practically their entire lives, and they’re among the first to try out new technologies and social networking tools.
On the other hand, they’re just kids. They’re still developing emotionally and mentally, and they’re not always able to make informed decisions about their Internet use. That’s why it’s important for parents to be involved in their children’s digital lives.
If your children understand the dangers inherent to the Web and how to avoid compromising situations, they’ll be able to use the Internet to their greatest advantage.
To help you protect your kids online, here are five common-sense social networking rules for kids.
1. Limit their time online
From helping with homework to connecting with friends, the Internet can be an amazing resource for kids. As with most things, however, it’s important for your children to use the Web (and the computer in general) in moderation. One to two hours is the most commonly recommended period of time that kids should spend online.
To help ensure that your kids stick to the time limits you’ve established, make sure the family computer is in a common room of the home.
Some scientists have speculated that there is a link between high Internet use and social and behavioral issues later in life, but there hasn’t been much concrete research done on the subject. Nevertheless, limiting the amount of time your kids sit in front of the computer is a good idea.
2. Know their account information
It’s not the end of the world if your kids want to use social networking websites like Facebook or Twitter—as long as you know that they’re using them. You should make sure that your kids disclose their account information so that you can keep an eye on their profiles.
It might be difficult to convince a child to share that information—especially if you’ve got a teen—but don’t let that discourage you. Let your kids know that your intention isn’t to spy on them but to keep them safe.
If your kids don’t feel that they can trust you, they might hide a problem until it gets too big to contain. This is one of the most challenging and important common-sense social networking rules for kids.
3. Don’t talk to strangers
You’ve probably been drumming this one into your kids’ heads since they were infants, but it’s still worth mentioning. Just as in real life, your children shouldn’t be associating with people that they don’t know. Double-check your kids’ profiles to make sure they’re befriending only those people that they know in real life (classmates, family members, etc.).
If you spot someone you’re unsure of, ask your child about it. Don’t convince yourself that it’s none of your business. If this person were to come to your home, wouldn’t you want to know who they were?
4. Use privacy settings
Privacy settings aren’t all-powerful, but they do provide a certain level of protection for social media users. If your children use social networking sites, make sure that they know how to protect their information. This is one of many extremely valuable social networking rules for kids.
Sometimes it helps if you use the same website so that you can familiarize yourself with the controls. The only thing worse than sharing something inappropriate online is sharing it with the whole world. If you teach your kids to use their privacy settings correctly, you might be able to stop a problem before it gets out of hand.
5. Secure passwords
Though your kids might think it’s perfectly OK to share their passwords and log-in information with friends, you know better. If other kids can log in to your child’s account, there is a much greater chance that your child could be the victim of cyberbullying or other Internet attack.
Remind your kids that even if their friends are trustworthy, there’s a possibility that the information could fall into the wrong hands. If they don’t share their log-in information with anyone but you, they have a much better chance of maintaining their good online reputations. By using these common-sense social networking rules for kids, all parties are more apt to be kept safe and sleep soundly.
Discuss these topics openly and honestly with your kids. Having conversations about online responsibility will help your children maintain a positive online presence for future employers and college admissions officers.