11 Dangers you didn't even know existed on your child's social media profile
Is there a single social phenomena in history that has progressed as quickly and dramatically as social media? I can’t think of one.
Websites like Facebook and Twitter have grown from emerging, novel ways to communicate with the wider world, to becoming an all-encompassing cyber-reality that has just as much significance as the real world. This is more evident than ever as the president of the United States famously uses Twitter to communicate with the world.
However, as the benefits of social media have skyrocketed, its more sinister elements have been equally amplified. The online sphere presents a completely new type of threat to young minds, far more intangible than the dangers we faced as children. It’s every parent’s duty to be critically aware of them.
INFORMATION CAN BE DRAGGED UP BY ANYBODY
Social media is so prominent that it’s near-impossible to prohibit your child from using it. Ban them from social media and you run the risk of estranging them from their friendship groups, and turning them into a pariah at school.
However, it’s acceptable – nay, essential – to make sure that you are in control of their privacy settings. A child’s social media profile is effectively the doorway to their life: it needs to be locked to strangers.
There’s no need to be secretive about this. Explain to your child why it’s important to make sure their profile can only be viewed by the friends they accept. Their real life friends.
EVERY PICTURE HAS A TIME AND PLACE WHEN IT WAS TAKEN
It’s alarming that so many parents are unaware of this disturbing aspect of social media.
Lying dormant within every picture that is uploaded to a website like Twitter or Facebook is information about when and, worryingly, exactly where it was taken. A series of pictures on a social media profile has the potential to act as a breadcrumb trail to its user’s exact whereabouts.
Only your child’s friends should be able to view the pictures they upload to their profile.
LOCATION SERVICES CAN BE TRACKED
Whilst a child’s pictures can give an idea of their general whereabouts over a period of time, in app location services can function as a real-time live tracker of their second by second co-ordinates.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to impress the importance of never sharing your location upon our children. Equally, it’s easy to innocuously turn on the feature in the settings on a mobile phone. Make sure you deactivate them yourself, and show your child how to turn them off.
DODGY FRIEND REQUESTS AND PRIVATE MESSAGES
It’s an unpleasant truth that social media exposes our children to an entire world of strangers, in a way unlike any before.
Users can send ‘direct messages’ on Twitter and Instagram, and Facebook messages from strangers appear as ‘message requests’.
The key here is education. You’ll probably remember your own parents telling you to “never get in a car with a stranger”. And did you get in any cars with any strangers? I doubt it.
Messaging on social media is just a new incarnation of stranger danger. It’s up to us to educate our children, and tell them to report any messages that arrive from unknown entities.
It’s easy to forget how difficult it was being a teenager. You were still working the world out, and learning more about who you were. Teenagers need somebody to open up to.
Some of us kept diaries, some of us wrote letters and some of the younger adults out there will remember staying up all night to message their friends on their Nokia 3310s. Nowadays, most teenagers use social media.
The problem is, posting your innermost thoughts and feelings on social media is quite different to writing a love-letter to your high-school crush. Everybody can see it – friends, strangers, even bullies at school…
More often than not, oversharing leads to regret and sadness. Whilst the pre-internet generations were able to use their early years to make mistakes without consequence, the youth of today find all of their actions permanently recorded on the internet, so must learn restraint at a much younger age.
Within weeks of websites like Facebook first surging in popularity, users were ‘borrowing’ their friends’ computers to write embarrassing or incriminating status updates.
However, what started off as a playful prank – updating your friend’s interests to include their least favorite sports team, for example – has descended into something far more malicious, and abusive.
After some deeply unsavory incidents resulted in hefty fines, account hijacking – or by its unsavory moniker, ‘fraping’ – is now recognised as a crime in many places, punishable by time behind bars.
ACCOUNTS ARE EASIER TO HACK THAN YOU THINK
The Chinese word for computer translates roughly as ‘electric brain’. It makes sense, but perhaps that description is even better suited to a person’s social media presence.
That’s why having your social media accounts hacked is akin to having your brain – and a significant portion of your whole existence – violated.
When most people think of hackers, they conjure the image of a sweaty twentysomething surrounded by several screens, typing bizarre codes and guzzling warm bottles of coca cola.
In reality, a lot of ‘hacking’ in the world of social media is simply a case of innocent users having their passwords guessed. How? Think about your ‘password recovery question’.
If your secret question on Facebook is ‘What was the name of your first pet?’, and you once "instagrammed" a childhood picture of your old golden retriever with a message saying “I still miss Rover”, you’re a prime candidate to be hacked.
When teenagers choose their secret question, encourage them to select something that they will never otherwise write about.
Lots of people associate bullying with physical violence. Fights in the playground, pinching and punching.
But while physical bullying is undoubtedly a problem and should never be tolerated, it was often the more insidious social bullying that had a deeper, toxic effect on its victims.
I’m talking about snide comments and sarcastic jokes designed to humiliate and marginalize their recipients. The sort of cruel campaign that made the victims of bullying spend their school days watching the clock, desperate to escape to the safety of their homes.
Nowadays, there is no escaping.
Unleashed on social media, bullies are free to make vicious comments, or tag their victims in humiliating status updates at all hours of the day.
Our children must know that this is never acceptable, and to immediately report any incidents they experience themselves, or see others on the receiving end of. Many schools take an active role in fighting against cyber-bullying, and will always be there to help its victims.
WE LIVE IN A SHAMING CULTURE
As well as online bullying threats emerging from a child’s social circle, it’s important to recognize that there is a growing culture of ruthless and brutal social shaming.
An early example of this is the video dubbed ‘star wars kid,’ a homemade video made by a young boy, pretending he had a lightsabre (just like near enough every young boy has done at some point since 1977). The video spread like wildfire, with many internet commentators making cruel and mocking comments by means of their anonymous accounts. The boy, now grown up, needed psychiatric help and dropped out of school. Luckily, the story had a happy ending.
Since the case of ‘the star wars kid’, there have been countless other examples of cyber-bullying on a national, even global scale.
Whilst the internet has led to more freedom in many ways, it also requires its younger users to think before they act, and perhaps have a keener sense of personal privacy than previous generations did at the same age.
KIDS MAKE MISTAKES – SOCIAL MEDIA DOESN’T ALLOW THIS
Just as a cynical portion of the ‘cyber community’ thirsts for humiliation and embarrassment, it also feeds on outrage, and a desire to be morally superior.
Currently, there is barely a week that passes without another example of an adult posting something ignorant on social media, and finding that their unfortunate comments have been shared millions of times, and are having scorn poured on them by half the planet.
Whilst adults might be expected to think before they type, a big part of being a teenager is making mistakes, and learning from them. The cyber community, however, makes no concessions.
If a teenager expresses a caustic, ill-thought-out opinion, they need an adult to speak to them. To help them examine their comments, and understand why others may find them hurtful or offensive.
What they don’t need is to see their own face splashed across the internet, and be showered with abuse, and even threats. Unfortunately, this is something that many social media users are actively keen to do.
AN OVER-RELIANCE ON LIKES
Whilst many of the threats we’ve discussed have come from outside sources, it’s important to ensure that our children have their own priorities right. No matter how confident they might act, teenagers seek approval. They commonly try on new personalities and characteristics like pairs of shoes, and want to be accepted and taken seriously.
Affirmation has never been so instantaneous than in the form of a ‘like’ button. When a teenager posts something onto Facebook or Instagram, they want likes. They want their tweets to be retweeted. They’re reaching out, looking for acceptance.
Whilst that’s only natural, it’s their parents jobs to remind them that acceptance in the online world is not the key to happiness. Sooner or later, they’ll find somebody who takes exception to them. If they take the ‘likes’ too seriously, they’ll find any online animosity stressful and disheartening.
It’s tempting to say that the world is changing, but the reality is that it’s already changed. Whilst it’s important to be aware of the fresh dangers social media poses to our children, we shouldn’t forget about all the good things it’s brought, and the amount of positivism it can spread.
Most of all, the youth of today must be aware of the threats, and simply learn to treat all social media with a sense of perspective, remembering that the extent to which they engage with it (and whether they use it at all), will always be their own choice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Paulo Vega, an avid reader and writer, Paulo works at Tutorean, where he blogs about parenting tips and tools to help children succeed in school and in life.