Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler has made many of us aware of just how cunning tricksters can be and how they use online and social media platforms, from Facebook to WhatsApp, to set their traps. If adults are so easily deceived, just imagine the risks teens are facing online.
Just like learning to drive or thinking responsibly about alcohol, so your teen needs to learn how to use social media sensibly. That’s the advice of Dean McCoubrey, the founder of Cape Town-based digital safety programme, MySociaLife.
If your teen doesn’t approach social media with open eyes, they could run into these pitfalls:
- Online predators: Did you know that more than 50% of their victims are between the ages of 12 and 15? That’s why it’s so important to keep the settings on social media platforms switched to private. Something as innocent as posting a picture in school uniform or at a well-known hangout offers easy clues to the wrong people. Some apps are even set to share your physical location – you can imagine the risk in that.
- Cyberbullies: Sadly, online bullying is a fact of life these days. Several studies in recent years have shown South Africa has rated in the top five in the world for cyberbullying. Posting, chatting and sharing online can make your teen an easy target – often, cyberbullies hide behind the anonymity of a keyboard.
- Reputation damage: What’s the first thing we do when we need to find out more about a love interest or new neighbour? Jump online to look them up on social media, right? Well, workplaces and university admissions officers do the same. Silly and thoughtless comments posted on social media can come back to haunt a young person. Even when a teen thinks something has been deleted, it can be impossible to completely erase it from the internet – it can still be stored on other servers or websites, people could have taken screenshots of it, and private accounts can be hacked. Inappropriate remarks also don’t just live online. Posts that are insulting or include hate speech can land you in trouble with the law.
Not using social media isn’t the solution. It’s one of the main means for teens to stay in touch and preventing your child from using it could create more problems than it solves. Rather, teach your teen to follow these guidelines:
Go through their privacy settings with them on all social media platforms and ensure all their content is private and only visible to friends, says Dean.
Do the front yard test
Everything posted on social media should pass the front yard test. If you wouldn’t put it on a large sign in the front yard, don’t post it. Even innocent comments or jokes can be taken the wrong way – especially in online discussion groups where people have a measure of anonymity. The backlash can lead to bullying and problems with peers, teachers and even future bosses. Before posting anything, take a breather to ensure your post is courteous and calm.
Stick to real friends
Predators, bullies and trolls create legitimate-looking profiles to lure their victims into a false sense of security. If you don’t know them, don’t friend them. It’s that simple.
Spending too much time on social media can be a downer, because it’s human nature to compare ourselves with others. What’s more, everyone only puts their best foot forward on social media, says Dean. Teach your kids to be aware of how social media makes them feel and to take a break from it if needed.
Follow your kids
Yes, it’s possible to hide certain posts from all your ‘followers’ or online ‘friends’ but knowing that mom might see their content will make a teen think twice about what they post. That doesn’t mean you should helicopter-parent every part of their lives, but if you do happen to see something inappropriate or unsafe, it’s an opportunity to educate. Your teen simply may not be aware of the dangers certain posts create.
It just takes a little time and attention to put in place all the preventative measures to keep your teen safe while they enjoy all the benefits of social media. Stay safe while staying connected!
- Pew Research Center
- Smart Social