You've likely joined Facebook because you understand that social networking can be a valuable tool to keep up with family and friends. Or perhaps you are a business professional and use Twitter and LinkedIn because of the value it brings to your business. Maybe you don't social network, but your friends do and you've heard them say "Facebook me". Either case, you know that social networking is a powerful tool that influences all our lives.
When it comes to your children, these tips will help to make sure your child has a safe, age-appropriate and engaging social networking experience.
1. Don't Be An Ostrich. Burying your head in the sand just won't work. Believing "I'm not going to let my child join a social network until….." isn't the best tactic to take. If you don't get involved in steering your child in the right direction then they'll sign themselves up without you knowing.
2. Know The Rules. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act is a law that protects your child online. It's against this law for any child under the age of 13 to join social networks like Facebook or MySpace. We never teach our children to lie, so don't let them lie to join a site.
3. Not Okay Offline = Not Okay Online. Mainstream social networks like Facebook are adult intended. Whether it's the inappropriate photos that are allowed; our personal data being tracked and sold; or the illegal content that is sadly shared, the fact is we wouldn't knowingly allow our children to be surrounded by these activities so we shouldn't online.
4. The Sooner The Better. Don't wait until your child says: "I want to join XYZ site." Start them out early as a member of a kid-centric site that you have researched and feel comfortable with. Social networking will be a part of your child's life, so make sure you're involved in helping them make a healthy choice early.
5. Set Limits. As with all our kids' media time, limit it. Make sure they have a healthy dose of outside activities before sitting down to enjoy their social media time. And when they do, limit their screen time.
6. Dialogue. Talk to your kids about what they are doing online, and don't stop talking. It's important they know you're interested and involved.
7 .Protect Your Child's Identity. Your child's identity and online safety is immediately at risk if they provide their first and last name, birth date, school, phone number or physical location. A website asking for this information should be a "red flag". A kids social network that complies with privacy laws - asks for your email for permission, your child's birth date (to determine if
8. Round Out Your Family Safety Net. After you've set your children up with their age appropriate safety-focused social networking account, be sure to activate the rest of the safety controls across all devices and tools. For starters, safety enable all 'idevices', Google SafeSearch and YouTube Safety Mode.
9. The Kids Channels Are Here! It used to be only ABC, CBS, NBC, then along came cable where suddenly kids could enjoy programming just for them. The same has happened in social media. Networks made specifically for your children offer kid-specific activities while safety and privacy are key.
10. Have Fun With Your Kids. There's so much exploring, creativity, education and engagement that your children will gain from their social networking experience. Be sure you sit down with your child and enjoy the experience together.
Written by Mary Kay Hoal, a nationally recognized expert on children's online safety, for Hybrid Mom.
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