Whenever you divulge personal information online, there’s always a security risk. However, social networks are yet another vehicle that not only engages users but could also pose a security threat, especially to children. And for parents with little ones looking to join Twitter, Facebook, or other networks, precautions need to be taken, says John Sileo, online security expert and author of Facebook Safety Survival Guide.
“Security for your child when it comes to using social networks is divided into two parts,” he says. “One is parenting and the other is the setting on whatever device your child is using.”
What’s the appropriate age to create a social networking account? According to Facebook rules, members must be at least 13 years old to sign up for an account. But before your child joins any site, here are a couple of things you need to know.
Location is key. While it’s not uncommon for nearly every family member of a household to have a personal computer, Sileo recommends keeping your child’s computer in plain sight. “My recommendation is to allow kids to compute when the parents do and to make sure you’re all in the same room.” This way, parents can monitor how much time the child spends online.
Communicate with your child. Before allowing your child to join a social network, having a candid discussion about safety and how you’ll monitor their usage is key to building trust and setting boundaries. Sileo says going through your child’s online activity without first letting it be known to the child can create serious trust issues. “Deal with it in an open way instead of trying to go behind their back,” he adds.
Set rules. It’s crucial to establish a set of rules around your child’s social network activity. Here’s a list of rules Sileo says all parents should maintain:
- Perform checks. Let your child know you reserve the right to randomly log on to their profiles to make sure there isn’t any inappropriate activity and that their network is secure.
- Friend or follow your child. While most kids–and even parents–may cringe at the thought of being connected through social networks, this should be the rule of thumb.
- Get a report. For parents whose children own smartphones, Sileo says it may be a good idea to get a report of who they’re calling and what websites they’re frequenting.
- Become involved. Sit down together to help build your child’s social networking profile. Help customize privacy settings to make sure your child’s information is accessible only to their friends.
- Don’t pretend to know someone. Oftentimes, users boost friend or follower counts by adding people they don’t know. Sileo cautions against this and urges parents to explain to their children that they should steer clear of people they don’t know.
- Limit the platforms. Parents should make it clear to their kids that they can be on no more than a select number of platforms. While adults may be familiar with the big three–Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn–there are a number of other sites gaining popularity, including live chat sites ooVoo, Chatroulette, and geolocation platform Foursquare.
- Limit what is shared. Don’t share birthdates, phone numbers, and your hometown. “When the Social Security Administration assigns social security numbers, they don’t do it randomly, they do it based on your birthday and
geography. If someone knows your birthday and hometown, there’s a formula you can find on the Internet and, with a thousand guesses (which only takes a computer a few seconds to make) you can guess someone’s social security number,” says Sileo.
- Double check your security. Sileo urges social network users to track how thorough their privacy settings are by visiting ReclaimPrivacy.org. The site provides an app that can be installed in your toolbar that will tell you the visibility of your Facebook information to the world.