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How do I Keep my Kids Safe on Social Media?

This week's Evil Mother Lady confession: I need to go back to school.

So, now it is time for the next confession—I need to go back to school. Being the news junkie that I am, I was cruising my my iPad and discovered an article about having “the talk” with your teen, a talk I had never heard before and for which I was woefully unprepared. The author, Kim Komando, shamed me into admitting I know nothing. My children will be so excited over the admission that I know nothing, which they have been saying for years, that they might not squawk at all the new privacy conditions I impose on their use of technology after reading this article.

Teenagers’ glee aside, this article on social media safety really demonstrated to me how little I know about the technology my children and I use on a daily basis. All my worries about physical safety for my children are amplified when I realize how much location-sharing is built into the applications and technology, a feature used to generate advertising revenue, not keep the user of the technology safe. Forget the trouble I get into arguing with teachers about the technology invites they send my children that I refuse and delete multiple times before my child or the teacher informs me the royal “we” are using this technology tool for a class assignment. To me, it’s spam, I didn’t ask for it, you didn’t tell me to look out for it, and so I delete it to keep us out of trouble. The reality is every time our children add a new technology tool to their lives, either my husband or I have to become the in-house expert on it and weigh in whether it’s a keeper or not. Pandora, Tumblr, you name it, if it’s in our social media household, we had to read all the fine print and reverse engineer what the company wants out of our children being subscribed.

But back to the article. Social networking apps such as Foursquare and Facebook encourage you to check in wherever you are and let your friends know what you are doing. As the author says, “There are a whole lot of people who do not need to know that information!” I have been guilty of doing this one myself recently, checking in every time I enter a certain performing arts facility per the suggestion from the emcee. Me, I am not so worried people will follow me outside the theater and wait for me in the parking lot; I went in with a group of friends and leave with the same. I also take precautions. My children, not so much experience there, so it’s not a risk I would want to take. I remember hearing one app recently that basically highlighted single women out at nightclubs so single guys would know where the ladies were. There was a backlash about safety and stalking and so the app was modified to address those concerns. The blatant stuff gets handled, my concern is this embedded technology that reveals more information than we want. It appears we are in the dark about how much information is truly out there.

And it’s not just the apps. Who knew just taking a picture was so fraught with danger? Apparently smartphones allow geo-tagging, a fancy word for providing the exact location, time and date a photo is taken. As a parent, I have been so focused on content, what my children post on Facebook, the photos they take and share and post, the emails and text messages they write and forward from friends, that I ignored the potential danger embedded in the very technology they use. Not knowing what to be vigilant about, I guess I need to start worrying about everything. Which is a shame, because I find I truly know nothing.

I am such a novice with technology that even the Facebook privacy settings confuse me. Twitter, another app that allows location sharing, is beyond my pay grade, I only follow people. The rest of the social media universe is just noise to me and I have been ignoring it as best I can. It feels like a hopeless battle. The apps proliferate like mad, one “hot new” technology explodes on the scene and the next week, dozens of copycats appear. So even if I banned the brand new version, I can’t possibly include all the generic versions in my ban, I just don’t know them. For now, I don’t allow my children to go outside my technology comfort level—I need to go back to school to learn how to do this stuff safely. Kim Komando’s advice, “become an expert on privacy settings” is probably great advice. But where do I find the class? If it exists here, sign me up. And, by the way, who is going to teach it, my children’s high school friends? And this is just the stuff I know to worry about. How do I know what technology could be hazardous to their health and safety and how do I check and see if my children are playing in these technology sandboxes I don’t know exist? I am not naïve, I know kids sneak and sign up for new technology tools all the time. I guess I am just ignorant. So, how about you?

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