Perhaps spending my first 30 years in Los Angeles makes me more suspicious of others than the typical Minnesotan. I lock my car and use a “club” on my steering wheel. I never leave my belongings unattended by either myself or someone that I trust. I stay observant of my surroundings at stoplights. All of that is probably overkill in most parts of Minneapolis, but as the saying goes, I’d rather be “safe than sorry.”
When it comes to my child, that philosophy also applies. And this is particularly true of his online activity, since the internet and social media have the potential to bring the worst elements from the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York right into our home 24 hours a day. Am I being overly protective? You bet. And I will gladly accept that label any day than to have to spend the rest of my life regretfully trying to figure out how to help my son “undo” something that an adult has done to him because I was not being vigilant.
It will be many years before my son has a Facebook or other social media account. Nonetheless, these are things that I am thinking about now. Understanding how to set up an environment that minimizes the chance of a problem evolving in the first place is, in my opinion, the best practice.
So with that being said, I will pass on some extremely valuable tips for protecting kids on social media. These were compiled by someone whom I generally consider the punch-line to a joke – Dr. Phil – but they are very well thought out.
The most important of these tips, in my opinion, are making sure that you are maintaining regular channels of communication with your child about their online activity (in an engaged and positive way, rather than a suspicious or accusing way), and keeping the computer in a common room.
To these, I would add one additional tip. We all know that someone can pretend to be anyone that they want to be on the internet. That includes online predators. Just because someone’s Facebook profile is of a 16-year-old girl does not mean that that is who the person actually is. When my child is old enough to start making connections online, one rule will be that he can only connect with kids that he already knows in the real world.
Social media brings on daily safety challenges for kids that I never had to face growing up in Los Angeles. My goal is to help my son successfully navigate those challenges while still making appropriate and meaningful use of the positives that the web and social media have to offer. -RR