Tag Archives: supervision

Your kid wants an Instagram account? What parents need to know

Example of teen Instagram“Mom, can I have an Instagram account?”

Until very recently, Facebook was the first social media account sought by elementary school-aged kids aware that connecting with their friends on something more sophisticated than Moshi Monsters was a sign of teenage sophistication. This is despite the fact that Facebook guidelines state it is only for users aged 13 and over (any kid that can subtract 13 from the current year and tick off a box can get around this). And although Facebook is still very much alive and well with tweens and teens, the grandaddy of social media has tracked a decrease among its youngest users, with a significant number of kids as young as seven are turning to Instagram, Whatsapp, Kik and Snapchat for their first “grown-up” accounts.

Instagram is a picture-sharing social network, where users set up their own accounts, share images with followers, edit the images with different filters and digital effects, and share, like or comment on each other’s images. Instagram has enjoyed the popularity of the “selfie” (images you take yourself, usually with a smartphone or tablet device), and users enjoy how easy it to share pictures and video with a comment or two, mention other users so they get notified, indicate where the image was taken, and include hashtags (search terms preceded by a #).

Parents with children as young as seven or eight are fielding requests for Instagram accounts, as many first and second-graders have access to wifi-enabled smartphones, iTouches and tablets. It’s never been so easy for so many kids to be so connected. And while there is nothing inherently bad about a social media network like Instagram, it does open up a Pandora’s Box of concerns about letting kids on the Internet.

If your school-aged child is asking you for an Instagram account, here are some of the things you need to know:

-1- Instagram’s terms of use state that the minimum age for users is 13. For many parents, this ends the conversation. You can tell your kids that this is the rule and that’s that. There are good reasons for this rule, including safety, security, privacy and experience required to exercise good judgement. Click on the above link and look over the Terms of Use with your kid.

-2- You can’t unring the bell. All kids online are prone to stumbling across images of sex, violence and other kinds of mature content. You can install kid-safe search filters or search engines (like Google’s Kidzsearch or SafeSearchKids), but even preschoolers recognize the entertainment value of searching for YouTube videos (YouTube is second to Google as the world’s most popular search engine). Kids quickly recognize the appeal of scrolling through Instagram feeds, and may stumble across images they won’t be able to unsee.

You know your kid and your context better than anyone. You need to decide what s/he is capable of handling, how comfortable they will be talking to you about what they see, how much supervision you can offer. This is true not only for Instagram but all of their activities online.

Edit your profile Instagram-3- Keep personal info off the profile bio. They shouldn’t include their family names (even in their usernames), where they live, the name of their school or even how old they are. This image shows you exactly how to edit your profile (you can also click on the Edt. You want to make sure that a Google search of their name doesn’t turn up their account, for reasons of privacy and security.

-4- Help them set up their accounts. Even if you have no clue how to do so. Use Google like a giant user manual, search for answers to questions like “how do I configure privacy settings on my Instagram account?” Figuring this out together models for them the process of establishing safe settings, thinking about privacy and more. Soon enough they will be setting up their own accounts for different things without you, so it’s important to go through the paces and have these conversations when they start to go online.

Instagram privacy settings-5- Set their accounts so their photos and videos are private. This means only those who follow your child can see their images, and their accounts are not public. When an account is set to private, they will get a notification any time someone wants to follow them. They can choose whether to approve it or not. The image to the right shows what you need to click on to set this properly.

Understand there will be some pushback here. For many kids (and adults), social media is about the number of followers they can get, the number of likes they can tally for their images. Some kids promise in their profile descriptions that they will always follow back. Apps like Followers+ help them track and increase those numbers. It’s essentially a popularity contest, and many kids get very caught up in those numbers.

-6- Show them how to review tags. Your child should review when a friend tags them in a picture or description
(they will get a notification from Instagram). If they don’t like the picture or what is being said, they need to contact that friend to ask them to remove the tag and/or take the picture down. Every user needs to learn how to monitor mentions and images of themselves online. Instagram notifications

-7- Regularly review your child’s list of followers with them, and block any strangers who may have been inadvertently approved. Kids are very trusting of superficial identification. They don’t know that the person claiming to be a 13-year-old girl may be a middle-aged man, or that someone easily pass themselves off as a friend when they are not.

-8- Help them think critically about the images they post online. Start off by insisting that they can not post pictures of themselves without your permission. We started off with no pictures of themselves at all, then gradually progressed to one or two pictures that met with my approval. There are plenty of silly, harmless jokes, images of celebrities, sports figures and adorable puppies they can share.

9- Tell them they can not post pictures of friends without their approval (and their parents’ permission). Not everyone is allowed to have pictures of themselves on the Internet. They need to get used to asking permission before snapping pictures and posting them online. And not everyone may be pleased that you posted a picture of them looking silly, or less than attractive. Having an Instagram account means respecting others’ right to their own images. This is a conversation you need to have with them over and over again.

-10- Create your own Instagram and follow your kid. As your child to help you come up with a user name and profile description. Even if you have zero interest in having your own account, it’s important to have some idea what interests your kids.

Kids also love Instagram Direct – the private direct messaging service that allows them to interact with strangers and unapproved followers. Click here to read what parents should know about this option.

 

PDF24    Send article as PDF   

The friends you’ll never meet: What parents need to know about kids and online communities

drawingA 12-year-old girl befriends a group of people in an online community dedicated to nurturing teen artists. Although she will never meet them face-to-face, speak to them on the telephone or engage with them in any other way, she quickly forms what she feels are meaningful friendships.

When she is away on a school trip, her mom picks up her daughter’s iPad, notices the site is open and begins reading through the messages. In between the many messages about various art projects, experiments with watercolours and collage and mostly constructive feedback on each other’s artistic creations, she sees messages with words that alarm her: cutting, drinking, fighting, drugs, suicide attempts. One of the boys claims he is 18 and is virtually “dating” a 14-year-old girl (who told him she was 16).

When her daughter comes home, mom brings it up. Her daughter blows off her concerns, saying it’s all just posing online. These are not her REAL friends, the ones she sees every day. They are just teen artists using funky avatars (images chosen to represent their persona) playing around online.

Mom is mollified but concerned. They talk about the references to drinking, drugs, mentions of suicide attempts. Cutting. She has her daughter’s password to this site and they agree to keep talking.

A week later, daughter comes to her mom in tears. Someone on this young person’s art network just posted a notice saying one of their online friends has died. She is distraught. Mom is freaked out. She doesn’t know what to do – does she ban her daughter from this social network and risk her defiance? How can she intervene in something that seems to be completely out of her control?

So she emails me for advice.

The Internet, for all its wonders of information, access, creativity and connection, also exposes our kids to communities of influence they might not otherwise know. We can move to a good neighbourhood, put them in good schools, get to know the parents of their friends and their soccer coaches. We can try to stack the deck in their favour with good influences and positive role models.

And while the Internet can offer many wonderful things, it is also an open door to stuff that kids will find difficult to handle. Hard core pornography. Violence. Information about sniffing, huffing, car surfing or the “monkey game.” But aside from all of these things, it also offers connections to new people whose real identities can be easily disguised. Most of them really are 14-year old girls interested in art or 16-year old boys with a genuine interest in online role-playing games, as they claim to be. But some of them are pretending to be what they are not, whether for kicks (just because they can) or for more insidious reasons.

When I speak about the deceptive ease with which someone can “pass” as someone else, most people laugh it off. Everyone seems to think they would somehow know if someone is lying. Others may be taken in, but they are too smart. Too savvy.

And you know what? They aren’t. Adults as well as kids tend to take what people say about themselves at face value. It’s super easy to be fooled, especially when our friends believe it too.

What does this have to do with my story? When I spoke with the concerned mom about the details of this supposed online death, a lot of inconsistencies and strange facts threw up red flags. The dead boy had claimed to be working with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency on a drug bust (yeah, right). He had proposed marriage to another 16-year-old girl on this network even though they had never met. The stories of fights and wild parties all had an unreal edge. He regularly let others post notices from his account. He had been banned by the site administrators before, and had registered for a new account.

So while the circle of teen artists invested in this community posted their grief in dark charcoal drawings and angst-ridden poetry, we discussed the very likely possibility that this was all a sham. She was relieved, and her daughter — though she didn’t want to believe it at first — gradually (and grudgingly) admitted the stories may have been exaggerated or made up.

Upset about the whole ordeal, Mom said she wanted to ban her daughter from this site. And although my first instinct as a parent would be to do the exact same thing, I urged her to reconsider.

Here’s why: A 12-year-old banned from a website she finds extremely compelling will be very tempted to sneak on when her mom isn’t watching. On a friend’s computer. At school. It’s extremely difficult to enforce that kind of ban, and extremely tempting to a kid to defy it. If they do, then a parent has to react decisively. You are setting yourself up for a battle that will be hard — or even impossible — to win.

But in this case, the daughter hadn’t done anything wrong. She didn’t need punishing — she needed guidance. The biggest takeaway from this episode is that fact that she came to talk to her mother when she saw something upsetting. Isn’t that ultimately what we all want with our kids? If mom banned the website, her daughter would no longer be able to discuss it with her.

So mom allowed her daughter to keep her account, but with some new conditions: that they go on together to review her messages and postings. She praised her daughter for keeping a cool head and coming to talk to her. She told her that she was giving her the freedom to stay on this site (with guidance) precisely because she showed good judgment in speaking to her mother.

So far, it seems this very upsetting situation evolved into an opportunity to learn some more about managing relationships – both online and off. Some important guidelines about kids and online communities:

  • Parents of kids and young teens need to give their usernames and passwords to parents
  • Kids and young teens have no right to privacy from their parents when online. These accounts are not the same as private diaries.  There is too much need for guidance around potential pitfalls. They can earn this privacy over time by showing consistent good judgment.
  • Kids and young teens don’t think they can be fooled by people pretending to someone else. This needs to be discussed regularly. Point out examples whenever possible.
  • Look into the online communities your kids want to join. Are there moderators? A contact for support if someone acts inappropriately. A way to flag inappropriate posts?
  • Go online with your kids every once in a while to see what kinds of things are being posted. Discuss what you see.
  • Steer kids to some of the excellent online communities for their age and interests. Spend a bit of time on Google checking them out – there are many wonderful, creative and reasonably safe online spaces for kids to interact.

www.pdf24.org    Send article as PDF   

Is it ever OK to spy on your teens?

On Monday evening, I was invited to speak about digital safety to a group of parents of 8th graders at a local high school. It was a great group of people, energetic, informed and enthusiastic about keeping their kids safe. They had so many questions, we ended up staying some time after the session was supposed to end.

It was abundantly clear that thy were very concerned. And somewhat at a loss for how to implement some of my recommendations with their 13 and 14-year-olds.

I understand that. Ideally, we should begin introducing these rules when they log on to their first Club Penguin or Webkinz account in elementary school. I had a harsh lesson in setting up Internet safety rules early: my then 5-year-old typed “Elmo” into a YouTube search at a friend’s house three years ago, and saw some homemade video with a puppet murder scene that left her with nightmares for months.

It’s one thing if they grow up knowing that mom and/or dad need to give permission to set up accounts on websites, that parents need access to all passwords until it’s decided they are responsible and mature enough to earn their privacy, that they must never, ever clear the history from their Internet browsers. It’s all about leaving traces to prove where they’ve been and what they are doing.

But introducing this rule for the first time at 13? Yikes. I can only imagine the moaning and groaning. A number of parents in the room were clearly anticipating the battles that lay ahead of them when they went home to announce this new policy.

But there is no shortcut. It needs to be done.

I compared it to driving a car. We would never imagine handing the keys to our car to a 14-year-old. They are too young, too inexperienced, too immature to handle the responsibility. Possibly they are not even physiologically capable yet — their legs may be too short to reach the brake and gas pedals. They might hurt themselves or others, or cause damage. And yet we don’t always question the wisdom of allowing our kids to make use of the incredibly powerful, public communication tools that exist online, often without any adult supervision at all. There can still be damange; people can get very hurt.

This brings me to one particularly interesting question brought up at the meeting. One parent asked about spying software available to record keystrokes or copy the browser history, even if your devious teenager finds a way to erase it. Basically, he wanted to know if it’s OK to spy on your kids.

My answer? It depends.

Ideally, we don’t want to spy on them. But privacy is not a sacred right when you are 13 or 14 years old. It is a privilege that has to be earned by showing consistent responsibility. Possibly your 16 or 17-year-old has demonstrated they don’t need their Internet activity closely monitored anymore. But I’d be hard-pressed to find a single 12-year-old with the judgement skills to go it alone.

Instead of spying, start off by involving your kids in the supervision. Link their Facebook accounts to your email to start with, so that you get notifications of friend requests, pictures posted and messages. Instead of sitting around reading them, have your kid show you their home feed and profile every once in a while. Ask to look at their email in boxes. There are some fabulous conversations waiting to be had. This isn’t a lecture, it’s a discussion. Big difference. Ask them what they think of language being used, pictures being tagged. You’ll get some really interesting insights into their world.

You should check their browser histories from time to time, but you can do that with them too. I have no problem with a look at their histories without them, but that shouldn’t be the only way you do it.

Is it ever OK to spy? To log in using their passwords when they are not around? Absolutely. If you think your child is in trouble, if you are concerned about recent behaviour, possible depression, cyberbullying (whether they are victim or perpetrator), drugs, sexual health issues or violence. If your motivation is one of genuine concern for your minor child or someone they may be hurting, and your intrusion is as respectful as possible, then you should disregard the usual respect for privacy.

Has your child ever lied about their activity online? Have they set up a safe, dummy account for you to check, then surreptitiously set up another for them to engage freely with friends? That’s fraudulent. That’s a fast-track to having privileges revoked and strict rules put into place. That’s when you may need to do some poking around. Some benevolent monitoring.

What I’m saying is, that’s when you need to do some spying.

Moreover, this is a rule that should be established with them when they are young enough to listen, so if the day comes that you log in with their passwords to their account, they cannot say “How could you do this?”

Who am I kidding? They will definitely say that. Guaranteed. Probably quite loudly.  But now you have an iron-clad response: we may have to do this to keep them safe.

en.pdf24.org    Send article as PDF