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Mar 30, 201211:13 AMEducation Matters

Facebook 101: How to Protect Your Kids Online

Mar 30, 2012 - 11:13 AM
Facebook 101: How to Protect Your Kids Online

Our teens live on Facebook, chronicling their lives through newsfeeds, chats and photos—often unaware of just who else may be checking them out.

And because they’re teens, our warnings about not sharing so much personal information and protecting their privacy can often fall on deaf ears.

“They don’t believe you,” says Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who’s taken on the battle for Internet privacy. “They’re technologically invincible.”

That’s why Gansler and Brooke Oberwetter, associate manager of policy communications at Facebook, traveled to Winston Churchill High School in Potomac recently to provide parents and students with tips on how to navigate Facebook and to be more vigilant when using social networking sites.

Oberwetter started things off by acknowledging to a crowd of about 120 that it’s unrealistic to think that a social networking site like Facebook, which has more than 800 million users, would “never have safety issues.”

That’s why Facebook developed its privacy features that allow users to control who has access to information, as well as social reporting tools for dealing with harassment, bullying or other unwanted behaviors, she said.

Teens can use the tools to report and block a person who is making harassing comments to them or someone they know. If your teen blocks someone, neither user will be able to see each other’s site or contact each other.

The social reporting tools also allow kids to choose the option of sending a message for help to an authority figure or a trusted friend or adult, which can help keep an online issue from spilling into school. There are also new reporting tools if your teen thinks that someone is impersonating him, Oberwetter said.

“Facebook reacts really quickly to impersonations,” she said.

The reporting tools can be useful, but teens can also consider whether they can approach another user who, for example, may have posted a photo that makes them uncomfortable, Oberwetter suggested. The user may not have realized how the photo could be perceived, she said.

“What we’ve found is that a lot of bullying and harassment stems from misunderstandings,” she said.

Oberwetter recommends that all users, especially teens, review their privacy settings once a month. That’s because as users add more friends, they may want to think about restricting or changing access to their pages.

It’s an especially important message for teens, who may not realize that they can’t control what their friends will do with the information they see.

“We can build really great technology,” Oberwetter said. “What we can’t control is how good a friend that person is to you. Make sure that the audience you choose is an audience you trust.”

Parents need to talk to their kids about all of these issues, Oberwetter said, noting that Facebook has a Family Safety Center on its website.

“No parent questions the need to talk to their children about crossing the street safely. This is the same conversation,” she said.

Here are a couple of other safety tips for parents and teens:

Know your kids’ passwords and make sure they never share them with others. “These kids trust people they shouldn’t trust. Statistics are one-third of kids give other kids their password,” Gansler said. “That’s amazing.”

Teach your kids to tell a trusted adult if they see something inappropriate or harmful online.

Review privacy settings with your children so only appropriate information is made public. Default settings tend not to be private.

Ask to review your teen’s profile and remove any identifying information, photos or inappropriate comments.

Observe the same rules for smartphones as you would for computers.

Apr 8, 2012 12:44 am
 Posted by  rebecca

This article struck home; a year ago someone started impersonating my daughter on-line. She didn't want to tell us about it because she was afraid we'd get mad, and possibly take away her Facebook account. Eventually we found out about it from another parent, but by then the damage had been done, not least of which was my daughter feeling powerless to take on the impersonator. At our behest, she figured out how to get help from Facebook itself and ended up shutting down the impersonator, who turned out to be the sibling of a schoolmate. Perhaps the schools should incorporate a social media instruction into the curriculum (a couple of information sessions should suffice)- after all schools offer other health and safety lessons. Coupled with the threat of cyber-bullying, perhaps the time has come for schools to get involved.

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About This Blog

Education Matters will discuss the news and issues affecting both public and private schools in Montgomery County. We want to talk about what’s happening inside—and outside—the classroom, who’s making the grade and who isn’t.

Julie Rasicot is a former newspaper reporter and managing editor who’s been writing about education for 25 years. She’s a veteran PTA and classroom volunteer who’s the mother of two girls—an eighth-grader and a fifth-grader—attending MCPS schools. None of that seems to matter, though, when she’s struggling to help her kids with their math homework.

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