Social Media Safety 101: A How-To for Parents with Socially Active Kids


Social MediaFor all of its glory, the web can be a very scary place. As social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and Vine continue to grow and expand, so too does the risk of identity thieves, hackers, spammers, cyber bullies and virus writers. We consulted digital marketing expert Jessica Green, founder of Toronto-based communications firm Cursive, for the run-down on how parents can arm their kids for the social media battlefield—particularly around March break when free time is at a premium.

Here’s what she had to say:

JS: What are some of the most basic mistakes kids make when posting online?

JG: Social media researching site Mediabistro said it perfectly: “One of the biggest threats to online security is overconfidence”. That is, tagging your mother (who goes by her maiden name) in a Facebook post, rooting for an Olympian from your hometown, mourning the loss of your childhood pet and even wishing your best friend a happy birthday. On considering the ridiculousness of having to so thoroughly censor myself, I had an a-ha moment, realizing that some of the most common security prompts include “Mother’s maiden name”, “Your hometown”, “Name of first pet” and “First childhood friend”.

JS: As adults, we’ve become acutely aware of the loss of innocence that’s accompanied the explosion of digital communications. But what about kids?

JG: A client recently asked me the same question and, rather than stumbling my way through a response, I reached out to my friend/tech goddess Rachel Singer, Digital Content Manager at Last week, she sat down with Nadine Silverthorne, Managing Editor of Today’s Parent, to talk social media for kids.

The video interview, which can be viewed here, goes through safeguards such as limiting screen time (per Canadian Pediatric Society guidelines), installing parental controls, guarding passwords and more. But the main take-away is an open line of communication. As an extension, don’t be afraid to share your own personal missteps.

Silverthorne says, “Remind them that anything they do in a moment on social media can haunt them for the rest of their lives.” She also underlines the importance of emphasizing to kids that anonymous/fake online identities are rampant. In other words, not everyone on the Internet is a) trustworthy and b) who they say they are. She adds, “Never reveal personal information like school names or address information on gaming communities or social media sites.” And the cardinal rule: only accept Friend requests from people you know.

JS: If parents want to get serious about protecting their kids from the dangers of cyberspace, what are some of the top steps they can take?

JG: In 2010, Today’s Parent ran the article, “Are You a Digitally Savvy Parent?” Their findings are just as relevant today as they were four years ago. The author, Debbie Gordon, Managing Director of Mediacs, aptly refers to the web as “That little slice of cable that connects (kids) to a world of information”. How glamorous! Not so much when you consider some of the unknowns hiding behind their screens these days.

Here are some of Gordon’s recommendations:

  • Rules rule!: While kids may argue and fight and, yes, ignore those rules, your expectations and guidelines still provide the scaffolding for the way they conduct themselves online.
  • Privacy = safety: Explain the potential risks when personal information becomes public.
  • Clue in before you click: Kids need to know that one wrong click is all it takes for thieves to steal private information and sell it to the highest bidder on the Internet black market.
  • Get in the game: Clarify rules and time expectations before you bring the technology home.
  • Online citizenship: Don’t type, text or forward a message to someone that you wouldn’t say to their face.

JS: If you could leave parents with any final words of advice, what would they be?

JG: I’d say get in the ring because social media is the way of the future. Rather than running in the opposite direction, put on your armour and stay one step ahead of the herd with vigilance and patience. Your kids will thank you when they make it through their teens digitally unscathed. Additionally, if your children are going to be using the internet for social media, you should also consider installing internet security software on all of your devices such as Zonealarm Anti-Ransomware in order to keep hackers away from your family’s data. Cyber attacks can be disastrous, so it’s best to be prepared.


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Joanne Sallay

Joanne Sallay is a Director at Teachers on Call, a personalized home tutoring service with more than 25 years of experience. Teachers on Call’s Ontario Certified Teachers specialize in providing one-on-one instruction in all subjects and grades including French Immersion tutoring.

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