With so many social sites and the complexity of information on the internet, it is a challenge to protect our kids in this tangled world wide web. This protection is needed not just with what your child does online, but also with what you do online. You play a pivotal part in preventing information about your child from getting into the wrong hands.
We want to post and share what is going on in our lives. Social media has been a great way to keep in touch with friends and family. There needs to be a balance between staying safe and staying connected.
There are many articles on the internet for how to keep kids safe, from monitoring software, parental controls, and talking to kids about being safe. Rather than talk about what our kids are doing, this article will touch on what the parent is doing.
It would be difficult to imagine that the people we connect with online would have any malicious intent. We don't know. Because of this, use the following tips to take steps to help keep your child(ren) safe while staying socially connected.
1. Use a nickname for your child
So many times, I see posts using the child's name. To keep pictures and posts from being seen by anyone who may try and search for, or even learn, your child's name, it is a best practice to use a nickname when referring to your child. Using a nickname will also safeguard your child's personally identifiable information as they grow. Using a nickname will also prevent your child's information from showing up on search engines.
Create a nickname for social media purposes only. I have a friend who calls her granddaughter her "little peanut". You could refer to your child with a term of endearment, use a nickname, or you could use part of their name. For example, if your son's name is Trevor, you could use "Tre" or "Vor". If your daughter's name is Sarah, you could use "Rah".
2. Post about activities after the fact
In the world of social media, we often post about where we are and what we are doing. We "check in" on Facebook or tweet about how excited we are to attend an event.
So many times I see a check-in on Facebook, such as "Johny is excited to have his fifth birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese in Springfield today!" or "Family fun at Seaworld - we are at the dolphin show right now". I've also seen check-ins at the gym, where people would likely know that your child is not with you. The gym is a perfect example of an activity that is likely done on certain days and certain times. Regular gym check-ins provide information on your regular schedule.
These three types of posts - where you're going, where you are, and what your schedule is - gives people a clue as to where your child is or when your child is home and you aren't. These three post types are common. If you look at the first example above - the birthday party - it gives the child's name, age, and birth date. That's a lot of personal information. We unknowingly provide so much personal information online without realizing it.
It's good practice to stop posting your plans, to stop posting where you are, and to stop checking in on a regular basis. Instead, post where you have been. Posting after the fact is a best practice because it's in the past - it's already happened, and it helps protect you and your kids.
3. Keep your child's pictures private
People add hundreds of "friends" or "followers" to their social media profile. In general, we are personally close to just a handful of these people. Many are acquaintances. We add co-workers, people we went to high school with, neighbors, and other people we may network with on a casual basis.
How well do you know these people? You can select which posts or images you share with everyone who follows you vs. those you know well.
To keep our child's information and whereabouts safe, create a private group on Facebook. You can then set the privacy of a post or picture to the private group. Create a locked Twitter account that is only for those you trust. Have a separate account to share interests with people on the web and never post family photos from that account.
Pictures you post can clue people into where you are or where you live. A picture taken outdoors could show landmarks that give information on location. Besides the photo itself, did you know that photos can contain geo-location data? When you take a photo using your mobile device, most of these devices store your location.
Location information can be helpful for creating albums with memories or for organizing your photos. But it can also be used by others. Remove metadata from your pictures before posting online. Norton has an article on how to remove this data: "How to Remove GPS and Other Metadata Locations From Photos".
4. Do not post a child's image or whereabouts in online groups
Are you a member of any Facebook groups? Do you post on a website forum? One woman claims her twin daughters were "digitally kidnapped," a horrifying story told on the Dr. Phil show. A mother of twin daughters joined a mommy group on Facebook and another woman allegedly took the mother's photos and started a blog talking about how the twin girls were hers. It is a fascinating story that every parent should read. Link to digital kidnapping story on the Dr. Phil website.
Be safe in situations where you are connecting with like-minded people. We all want to have those connections and share our stories and help each other. We join groups, become a member of a website forum, comment on blogs and articles - we engage. Sometimes we post pictures related to the topic at hand. Keeping your kids pictures and names/ages off of these types of social media sites will help in protecting them.
5. Google Yourself
Every social media site has privacy settings. But these can be complex, difficult to find, or difficult to understand. How do you know if you or your child's information is out there for everyone to see?
Use quotes when entering your name. Quotes tells the search engine that it must match that phrase and spelling accurately. If you don't use quotes, the search engine will look for any word you type. Use different terms when searching, such as your profession or your location. Example hypothetical: Your name is Suzy Jones. You are a nurse. You live in Chicago. Use all of the following search terms in separate search requests:
- "Suzy Jones" Chicago
- "Suzy Jones" Illinois
- "Suzanne Jones" Chicago
- "Suzanne Jones" Illinois
- "Suzy Jones" nurse
- "Suzanne Jones" nurse
Review results for the web. After checking the web results, click on the "Images" tab and see what pictures are out there.
The results of your information will help you see where you need to update your privacy.
If you find this article helpful or if you have other tips, please share or post in the comments section below. I would love to hear from you!