It’s no wonder so many parents are at a loss as to how they can keep their children safe online. Kids are very tech-savvy at a very young age – they swipe screens left, right and centre before we even know they’ve picked up the phone.
When it comes to finding tips on how to keep your children safe online, a simple search in google will deliver thousands of them. Most are surface–level tips, meaning you have to dig deeper to fully appreciate them.
But what busy parent has the time to dig deeper, or even to attempt to look through the mountains of information online – where do you even start??
In this article I’ll do the digging for you into a common tip to make it MUCH more valuable. If you’re really serious about learning how you can keep your children safe online, you’ll find a heap more insights and practical answers here
The Common Tip: Only Accept Friend Requests From People You Know
No doubt you’ve heard this tip before, and it’s a really important one to share with your kids. Why? Here are three reasons why this makes sense.
#1. Protection of Personal Information
One of the obvious reasons is simple privacy online. Many people including myself don’t believe there’s such a thing as privacy online, however there’s a difference between someone breaking into your home and leaving the door wide open. This is a great analogy that most kids will easily understand.
Most kids don’t realise how much personal information they share online. In fact if you ask them what their personal information is they might tell you it’s their address and phone number and maybe, if you’re lucky, what school they go to.
In speaking with ‘tweens who are already using social media, who are aged between eight and twelve years, I can tell you that these children appear to happily share plenty of personal information online with very little awareness of the potential consequences of their actions. If they’re only sharing this information with the limited people they know in real life, they’re making it a little more challenging at least for strangers to know too much about them.
#2. The Risk CyberBullying Is Lowered
Of all the concerns parents have for their children’s well-being, the top of the list in most recent surveys is cyber bullying. Whilst most cyber bullying involves people who are known to the victim, some of it comes from strangers who don’t care about the victim and don’t see any likelihood of punishment.
Limiting friends online to those you know in real life can lessen the chances of being cyber bullied. It also reduces the chances of trolling, where strangers get a real thrill out of upsetting people they don’t know or care about.
#3. Physical Safety
With so many apps revealing the user’s physical location as a default, and so many children not using the highest privacy settings or turning their location off, it’s safest to limit friends to people you know. When strangers can find out where you are at any particular time your physical safety is at risk. Your home is also at risk from being burgled when you broadcast that you’re on holidays or that you’re at home alone.
The Two Words To Add To The Online Safety Tip
It isn’t enough simply to only accept friend requests from people you know. One of the keys to being safe online is to only accept friend requests from people you both know AND TRUST.
When you think about it, the number of people you know AND TRUST is a lot fewer than the number of people you know. Just because you’ve seen someone around or they go to your school, does that automatically mean you should trust them? What do you really know about them?
Here are three reasons why it’s so important to TRUST someone before you become “friends” with them online.
#1. “Friends” Can Share Your Posts
Obviously your friends online can share your posts. If you share something you don’t want a heap of people to know about (which all kids do on a regular basis), you don’t want to be sharing it with people you don’t trust. Those people can easily share it to people on their network, who may be people you don’t know or like or trust. Just like that, the chances of a situation blowing up in your face, where you may be bullied or harassed for something you shared without thinking, are very high.
#2. “Friends” Can Embarrass and Make Fun Of You
Adding on to point #1, people you don’t trust may spread only parts of your posts, which can put your post out of context. This can be embarrassing and/or can make you look bad, as per the scenario below.
I saw a video recently of a young girl who was just starting to use social media. She had a friend guiding her, who assured her that a guy from her school that she didn’t know at all had a great sense of humour and would be okay to have as a “friend”.
After a little while the girl shared her first post, an image of her having spilt some water that made it look like she’d had an unfortunate accident! She posted it with a funny comment that made it clear she had simply missed her mouth when drinking the water through laughing too much.
The guy she was friends with online (but hadn’t ever spoken to in person) shared her image, only without the comment explaining what had really happened. The next day at school everyone was laughing at the poor girl, and it took a while and a lot of embarrassment before the kids moved onto the next person to make fun of.
By the way, if anyone can find the video I’m referring to please let me know in the comments below and I’ll include a link to it here, thanks!
#3. “Friends” May Not Be Who They Say They Are
If you don’t trust the person you’re friends with online, how do you know they’re even who they say they are? Kids are naturally very trusting of others online until they personally see something going wrong, and that’s what makes them so vulnerable.
There are a lot of fake profiles online, where the picture of the person you’re friends with may not be that person. Anyone can take any image online and put a name to it, but that doesn’t mean that name is an accurate reflection of the person behind the screen.
It’s not hard to see why the trust element is so significant when it comes to who you accept as a friend online.
What You Can Do To Keep Your Children Safe Online
There are a few reasons why children accept friend requests online from people they don’t know, but we’ll save that for a later post.
For now, take the time to sit down with your children when there are no distractions around and share this information with them. Your children need to understand why trusting someone online is just as important, if not more so, as simply knowing who they are in real life. A simple conversation like this may just prevent your child from getting into a very embarrassing situation or from putting themselves in danger.