Internet safety for parents: Facebook

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In the old days, parents were merely concerned about kids getting hurt at school or while playing just outside their house.  Now, with the age of technology where everything and everyone is online (on the Internet) we have new threats to watch out for.  I myself am a parent as well (as some of you loyal readers already know) of twin girls.  Watching out for them online can be much more difficult than just watching out for them in person.  In this article we will focus on Facebook and  explain some of the threats and what you can do to minimize risks.

Facebook, if you haven’t heard of it, you need to check it out.  If you don’t already have an account and your kids do, you better get an account immediately after reading this article and see if your kids will add you as a friend.  This is a very easy and basic way of keeping track of them online, Facebook specifically.  If you are new to this, go to www.facebook.com

 Facebook concerns

  1. Keep your information private.  It’s easy to sign up for a Facebook account and of course you then want to fill out your information and start playing all the games etc.  Unfortunately games want to access your information and many times you need to specify your settings to be private, friends only, friends of friends, or everyone (people who are not your friends – the world).
    You need to carefully look at your Facebook profile and decide what information you want only friends to see and what you want everyone else to see.
  2. Careful what you post.  I see alot of nice posts, then I see stupid useless stuff, and then there is insulting, bullying and disgusting posts.  Be careful what you post.  A common one I see is “5 likes and I’ll answer these 10 questions”, then it goes on to list several likes and dislikes which some are harmless, but then there are some questions like what was your last text, which could be very private.  Some people are smart enough to make up answers rather than answer honestly, but then that could backfire too.This is a very big area in Facebook is posting status updates. Don’t post things like when you are away on vacation.  Potential burglars are online waiting to see when someone is on vacation.   Your kids post this online, which means you are probably going with them, and if they don’t have their posts set to private, everyone could see no one is home and this is the perfect time to break in and steal from you.Even worse, in combination with what information your kids have in their profile, and what they post, predators can see what your child looks like, where they go to school, where they live, and what time their dance practice, swimming lessons, music lessons, etc. are and where.  So they can follow them around waiting for the perfect opportunity to snatch your precious child and possibly do unspeakable things.  (sorry, but I can’t help but think about my own kids at the same time.  Freaks me right out, no one likes to talk about it or hear it, but you have to be aware, and having daughters, for me, makes it even worse.)Kids usually assume everything is harmless.  They are so wrong, but that’s why we as parents need to step in.  Photos they take of themselves and post online may seem perfectly fine to them, but if you look at them in the eyes of a pervert, stalker, and don’t want to say the R word…  Just make sure those photos are either marked for friends only and that their friends truly are friends that they know and go to school with, and not just friends they found online because they share a game in common.  Many times someone will have a Facebook account appearing as a 10 year old but in reality they are a 40 year old perv.  Best precaution is just delete any questionable photos.  There is no need to show everyone online all your photos.  Especially potentially erotic looking photos.

What can I do as a parent?

  1. Check your privacy settings by going to the arrow beside the Home option and click on Privacy settings.
    You will see several options in the next screen.  Make sure the default setting is for friends.
  2. When posting each time, click on the “Custom” button and choose who you want to be able to see this particular post.  Usually you just want friends to see it, otherwise, it maybe friends of friends but since you don’t know who all the friends of your friends are, and who they could be in the future, it’s not a good idea.
  3. Especially when it comes to photos of your child, make sure they are not questionable.  Use your best judgement and either ensure only friends can see it or just delete the photo all together.
  4. Make sure they know not to chat with or become friends with strangers.
  5. Make sure they understand never to post information like when they are going on a family vacation or anything that would suggest to potential burglars when is a good time to break in.
  6. Make sure they don’t provide details about everything they do and where they go.  Online stalkers love this stuff.
  7. Ask them to respect others online, bullying in person and online is the same thing.  They need to know it is important to you that they tell you about anyone bullying them online or making them feel bad or negative.
  8. If all else fails, simply don’t allow your child on Facebook at all.  Think about it, when we were kids, we didn’t have Facebook.

Now, the big questions.  How old should my child be before getting a Facebook account?

In my personal opinion, it’s a decision that must be made independently by each parent.  Only you know your child and when you feel they are old enough to be responsible, give them some slack, but monitor them closely at first.  Then, you can back off a little when you feel you can really trust them to protect themselves.
If I had to throw a number out there for an age, a few friends and family I know got their Facebook accounts when they turned 13.  Comment below what you think is an appropriate age.

About Daniel Gauthier

work as a peace officer in various forms. Daniel wrote a book in 2009 called “Tech-Knowledgy” which got him on television and radio a few times. The concept behind the book was “to level the playing field between computer techs and non-techies so they don’t get take advantage of”.
Daniel has a couple certifications including MCP and A+; he is preparing to write the Network+ exam and has studied CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) and CHFI (Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator). Daniel has run his own computer service business “TwinBytes” since 2004. He has done a few talks on cyber security and generally enjoys training, educating and helping others.

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