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How to keep your family safe on social media

Raising children is hard enough. Everything seems pointy, table edges come far too close to my daughter’s head and I’m constantly worried that something will happen to her.

She’s only two, but as her generation and those a little older become more and more active on social media, we have to be vigilant about what and who is speaking on the other side of the phone, tablet or computer.

Social strangers

When I was young (I almost said “back in my day,” now I feel old), we had to pick up the landline and call our friend’s house and ask their mom or dad if I could please speak to my friend. “Hi, it’s James, could I speak to Tom please?” Then came instant messenger programs, then texts, and now anyone can speak to anyone without a real introduction.

It doesn’t take much to set up a Facebook profile (or Whatsapp, Kik, Snapchat, and endless others), add a few nice profile photos that you found on someone else’s page, and you can pretend to be anyone else.

As we introduce our children to the incredible world of social media, we need to prepare them for the realities that some people aren’t as nice as they say.

In-app purchases

I have bought tokens or game add-ons to continue my journey on an iPhone game a few times. It’s far too easy, and it’s designed to be that way.

If your child is handed a phone or tablet to keep busy for a few peaceful minutes, ensure that you’ve turned the in-app purchases off in the settings and make them require a password every time one is offered. 

Unfiltered opinions

Twitter has been in the news recently with their failure to delete hateful or ‘troll’ accounts, where people share argumentative, racist, or otherwise provocative opinions freely and without much repercussion.

For those who are easily convinced or more susceptible to new ideas that promote inequality or hate speech, this can be particularly dangerous. In your Twitter account, head to settings and select ‘Muted Words’ to add a list of profanity or topics that you don’t want to see in your (or your child’s) news feed.

The incredible benefits of social media and digital connectivity

Don’t worry though, it’s not all bad. In fact, social media and the age of digital connectivity is an incredible thing. There’s never been so much free access to news, just choose your sources.

We can connect to people all over the world and discover what life is like from the people who are actually living it. Twitter has given a voice to those who didn’t have one before. We can see an unfiltered viewpoint to news as it happens from people who are on the scene.

There’s never been more ways to see events, debates, and innovative content and watch as it all unfolds. The information that we need is literally at our fingertips, or even at our voice command! “Alexa, what’s in the news today?”

The toys and tools that we can give our children have evolved from building toys and plastic blocks to inspire a generation of engineers to coding platforms and dolls that the kids can program to perform tasks. There are even computers that cost just a couple of dollars that have been giving school kids in impoverished countries an opportunity to learn new skills that can transform their lives and those of their communities.

The times are changing so fast, it’s important to navigate and ensure we use these new tools to benefit our families and those around us.

Tips to stay safe online:

  • Don’t share anything you wouldn’t show your parents.
  • Keep passwords and private information safe.
  • Download moderation tools and browser add-ons. 
  • Don’t tag places you visit it’s easy for people to track you down and see your routine.
  • If you don’t know them in real life, don’t add them to your friend list.
  • If you’re meeting someone, tell a parent or guardian where, for how long, and how you can be contacted.
  • Invest in some ‘trackables’ Bluetooth or other devices that can show someone where you are, even if your phone is off.

James is a busy dad and creator of SocialDad.ca. He lives in North Vancouver, BC and tries to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

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