Should Your Kids Use Social Media?

In today’s computer-driven world, children are becoming computer savvy at very young ages. Many software products on the market are specifically geared toward the preschool crowd. These products can really help give a child a head start on learning skills such as reading and basic mathematics.

However, there’s a big difference between a child using these software packages and venturing online. Yet many parents are allowing their young children to develop an online presence at alarmingly early ages. Some parents are even posting photos of their child on social networking websites before they’re born, starting with their sonogram photo.

Should your kids use social media? How young is “too young” for children to be online? What precautions should parents take to ensure their safety and online reputation, regardless of the child’s age?

Although these questions are ultimately the decision of each parent, this article will discuss some facts to consider when deciding should your kids use social media.

 

Minimum age for social network websites

Social networking websites have minimum age requirements that must be met before a person can sign up. For example, both Facebook and MySpace require that a child be at least 13 years old to use their websites. However, many parents post information and even photos of their children on their own social networking account, in most cases to conveniently share photos and information with family and friends.

Others are motivated to add information about their children simply to add interesting content to their own profiles. In some cases, parents might simply be trying to “keep up with the Joneses,” posting photos of their child because all their friends are posting photos of their children.

Regardless of the reason, it’s important for parents to understand the potential effects and even risks of posting personal information and photos of their child online. After all, it’s never too soon to start thinking about a child’s Internet privacy and reputation.

 

Online privacy settings and managing online privacy

It’s easy to understand why many parents wish to share photos of their child on social networking and photo sharing websites. Many families live far away from their relatives, so these websites often seem like the perfect way to keep everyone connected. However, before uploading an album of photos to an online website, parents should make sure they understand how to use the website’s privacy settings. Without this knowledge, they could unwittingly share private information and photos with the whole world, not just with grandma and grandpa.

When used properly, privacy controls can allow a person to restrict access to only a few select individuals. However, because these websites often use less restrictive security settings by default, many children end up with photos and information posted that anyone can view. Unfortunately, this also means that others can use this information, sometimes in quite unsavory ways.

 

Risks to consider when posting online

It’s important for parents to remember that some things should be kept private. If you post a photo of your child’s birthday party or mention your child’s name, age, school, nickname, hobbies, interests or the names of his or her friends, you could be providing a stranger with enough information to gain your child’s trust.

Parents should also consider the fact that they’re essentially creating an online history for their child. Although those baby photos taken in the bathtub might be cute, they could prove to be very embarrassing for a child as he or she grows older. Other children might even use embarrassing photos as a form of cyberbullying.

Children, and unfortunately even some adults, can be quite bold and cruel online, primarily due to the anonymous nature of the Internet. If you simply must share some photos of your child online, choose only those that are appropriate. Avoid any photos that could be embarrassing, or those that simply provide too much information. After all, when you post a photo online, you give up all control as to how that photo could be used by those viewing it.

So, in determining should your kids use social media, you should ask yourself how they intend to use it.

 

Online experiences for young children

Eventually the time will come for a child to venture online. Many people think that reading is a prerequisite for online use, but there are actually some good websites available even for pre-readers. If you choose to allow your children to use these websites, you should always monitor their experience.

When a child learns to read and write, you should make sure he or she understands the need for online privacy. For example, if your children wish to write a journal or diary on your home computer, make sure they understand not to share this information online. Likewise, if your children want to use email, provide them with proper guidance on how to use it safely.

Although young children often enjoy using email to communicate with their family members or friends, parents should never allow them to read their email unsupervised. After all, even the best spam filters allow emails to slip by that are inappropriate for children. It’s also crucial that children understand that they should not share their email address with everyone.

 

Your child’s “digital history”

Although it’s easy to think of online communications as quick and fleeting, they’re actually quite permanent. Those photos you post on a social website today will still be around in a database for years to come, and they have the potential to damage your child’s online reputation in future years. Even if you remove the photo, someone may have already downloaded it and could use it in the future.  Parents should think very carefully about the kind of “digital footprint” they’re helping their child create.

Just as is the case with adults, a child’s digital history will follow them throughout his or her lifetime. Starting early to protect your child’s privacy and online reputation is critical as you decide should your kids use social media.

 

Susan Campbell is an independent privacy consultant and author of several articles on online privacy management and reputation management.