Social media - how to protect your kids and yourself!

April 11, 2018 Elizabeth Meade, MD

Social media is here to stay, and it’s important that we teach our children how to be responsible, safe users. Many parents ask “what’s the right age to have a social media account?” and the honest answer is that it’s different for every child and for every family. Certainly for preteens and younger adolescents, if they do have their own accounts they should know that parents will have the passwords and be monitoring activity from time to time. Older teens may be able to use social media more independently, as long as they demonstrate that they can do so responsibly. 

Here are 5 tips for safe social media use

  1. Don’t post identifying details. Things like middle names, birthdates, addresses can all be TOO identifying and make it easier for identity thieves and other predators to find out personal information about you. The less specific information visible to the public, the better. Some people even refrain from listing their full first and last name, and instead use a nickname or no last name.
  2. Check your privacy settings and those of your children’s accounts frequently – make sure no matter what platform you’re using, that you know what your settings are. These settings can also change, and you may not necessarily be alerted in a way that makes it clear what the changes are, so it’s good to check in periodically and make sure things are still the way you want them. Also know that just because your account is “private,” it doesn’t mean that other people can’t share things you post or that your content is only visible to your immediate contacts.
  3. Make sure everyone knows that once you put something online, assume it’s there forever. Even if your account is private, even if you delete it right away – it’s out there. Things can be screenshotted, downloaded, and shared. Don’t post any content (photos and videos included) online that you wouldn’t want broadcast on national television!
  4. Think about being a good "digital citizen." Don't post something you wouldn't say to someone's face, report it if you see something that makes you uncomfortable, and make sure your kids know the rules of engagement too. If they see a mean comment online, that can be a perfect time to start a conversation about how to be respectful and kind. Being entrusted with social media use is a privilege for kids, and it should be earned by demonstrating good online behavior.
  5. Finally, set a Google alert for each family member’s name - if they are mentioned online, you'll get an email. For someone with a really common name this can be challenging, but for most people it's a great way to keep tabs and make sure there is no false information being posted with your name on it!

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