Social networks like Facebook and Twitter provide great ways for kids to interact, learn about new things, and become smart and savvy online citizens. But there are still online dangers that can get kids and teens in trouble and, worse, put them in danger. Whether it’s accidentally creating an account that asks for unnecessary personal information, or talking to strangers in cyberspace who turn out to be online predators or sex offenders, there are constant online threats and privacy risks that parents need to acknowledge, as suggested by Safe in Your Space. Kids and adults alike should always be aware of the following online risks and dangers that we came up with:
- Checking in – What easier way to tell an online predator where they can find you than by checking in with apps like Foursquare of Facebook Places? Smartphones make it even easier for kids to alert the entire online world of their whereabouts, and therefore draw unnecessary attention to themselves.
- Oversharing about social events – Tweeting or posting a status update about a recent party or other social event can have some serious repercussions. Saying just one small thing about being drunk, or posting other inappropriate talk about alcohol, drugs, or sex can be saved and used against a kid forever.
- Posting inappropriate pictures – No matter how well-behaved a teen is, the online world may see them differently. Even if they aren’t drinking or participating in inappropriate behaviors, they may be at a party where people are taking and posting photos. This creates a problem for their online reputation, and any picture posted online can add to their already growing digital footprint.
- Participating in chat rooms – While chat rooms have become less popular since the surge of more personalized and private social networks like Facebook, there is still a risk that a child could unknowingly participate in a chat room that is not age-appropriate. Kids can be exposed to inappropriate talk and behaviors, and risk sharing personal information with strangers online.
- Playing online games – While less risky than chat rooms, online games and forums may still request that kids share personal information. If they are caught up in a game with other people online, they may be even more prone to sharing information without really realizing it.
- Trying to get free stuff – There are plenty of scams out there, and kids should know that the general rule of thumb is if an online offer sounds too good to be true, then it probably is! Offers for cool electronics like iPods and iPads pop up everywhere and a kid might think they’re entering information to win a prize as opposed to sharing information with numerous companies and third parties.
- Having weak privacy settings – Not only should kids have the most secure privacy settings as possible on sites like Facebook (only friends can see photos, wall posts, etc.), but they should completely avoid sharing cell phone numbers, addresses, or any other personally identifying data, no matter how secure their settings are. If something is posted online, chances are the wrong kind of people can find it one way or another.
- Staying signed in on public computers – It seems like free Wifi connections and computer access are available everywhere nowadays and, while convenient, this also makes it easy for people to obtain others’ information. If your kids ever use a public computer, whether at school, the library, or elsewhere, they should fully log off once they’re done. And they should never share their login information with anyone no matter where they’re signing in.
All of these threats are very real and very possible, and online safety starts with parents’ knowledge of the risks that are out there. By being educated, parents can help their kids be more online savvy and more careful about sharing their information. There are so many opportunities to overshare these days but by keeping information private and – more importantly! – offline, kids decrease their chances of anything seriously disturbing happening to them because of their online activities.
What precautions do you take to make sure your kids don’t get in trouble online?