Social media is of course the most well-known of all ways we use the internet and most of us are well acquainted with FaceBook and sometimes other social networking sites. Social media however extends to YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and many other sites that encourage social sharing and interaction. In this article we look at how social networking sites are used and the potential pit falls that are there.
In order to educate our children in online safety you need to understand what they are using the internet for and how current generations are taking advantage of online social media and online sites. Whilst you might be relatively internet savvy your children are often going to be more so. With that in mind we are going to cover the most common uses your children use social networking for and warn you of the potential dangers they may face.
Facebook has quickly become one of the key ways children interact with their friends online and there are a huge number of ways they do so. If you are not familiar with FaceBook then you should familiarise yourself with the options available online. FaceBook allows users to share messages, videos, photos and share their interests with other people in their social network. The site also offers games, advertising and a plethora of other options. FaceBook has come under severe criticism previously for its security and you need to make sure that children are using security and not befriending people they don’t know. The number of friends you have on FaceBook has become a social status symbol amongst large numbers of youngsters and this can encourage your children to seek friends they don’t know. Guarding against this is a good idea so that you can ensure your child is only befriending people they know. Additionally you need to understand that many children now use social networking sites as their primary mode of communication and that there is no moderation of what their friends and they themselves can say or post on their profile. This means that your child can be exposed to, and expose themselves to, a large amount of inappropriate language and content that is posted by their friends online. For this reason you need to talk to your child carefully about appropriate online behaviour and how they should react to inappropriate exposures. Caution them about their behaviour and explain that anything they share online (even in private) can potentially be shared amongst many more people. Finally you need to be aware that bullying has become increasingly commonplace on social networking sites and you need to talk to your children openly about how to react to this kind of behaviour.
MySpace is similar to FaceBook but much more public. It is a site where you present yourself your interests and can edit your page and show details publicly. You have the options to befriend people, follow people and share images and videos. Much of what we have already covered with FaceBook applies here but you also need to be aware that MySpace is much more public than FaceBook. With that in mind you need to ensure your children are very careful with what they post online on this site and caution them heavily against their interactions.
Twitter is different from other social networking sites in that you only send short messages without attachments of private information being freely accessible. Tweets are shot messages that your followers receive. Whilst this is a relatively secure form of social networking you need to be aware that tweets even amongst friends can be harmful and that children should still be exercising caution when using these forms of interaction.
With all social networking you need to ensure that your children are exercising caution and behaving appropriately themselves. If they are not then they expose themselves to danger and other problems. So you should educate them and yourself in how to behave, report inappropriate behaviour and how to guard their privacy.
Jane writes about internet safety in order to help raise awareness to parents about the potential dangers of the digital world.