The sinister side to Social Media – What every parent needs to know

Many well intending parents have refused their tweens access to facebook after hearing horror stories about Cyber Bullying and Paedophiles. So clever tweens, eager to enter the social media world, are doing the switcheroo and turning to Instagram. What they don’t tell their parents is that Instagram isn’t just photo sharing. It has all the features of social media, including the dark sides. Snapping innocent photos of pets, drawings and social outings is just the beginning of what Instagram offers.

Basic Facts:
– Instagram is a free APP.
– To the uneducated eye Instagram can look like a photography APP. It isn’t.
-Children need an email address to download the APP. There is a lot of sense in not giving children their own email address. This way they have to use yours to download things, unless they are computer savvy enough to create their own.
-On sign-up Instagram gives you a birthday picker. Technically children have to be over 13 to use Instagram. There are many good reasons for this.
-Many youngsters go ahead and download APPs on iPads and Smart Phones without asking their parents’ permission. Before their parents know it they are operating a social media account without any supervision.

Profiling Yourself Online:

-Tweens are targets of paedophiles.
-When tweens profile themselves online they often fail to understand the gravity of including personal information such as where they live or go to school. Instagram allows them to ‘show’ such personal information and map a story of their lives that paedophiles piece together through photos.
-Creating private profiles is absolutely essential. You have to manually activate privacy on Instagram, or your photos will be posted publically.
-When children advertise other social media sites on Instagram (Skype, KIK, facebook) it enables strangers to contact them through other forms of media, including video and personal chat. This presents a high risk of exposure to pornography.

Value Based Decisions:

Even if your tween has set up the strictest privacy settings on Instagram, they have to make the following value based decisions each time they use the site. While using Instagram tweens will need to decide when to:

-Block people who they do not want to continue to follow
-Delete people’s inappropriate comments. Remember, users can’t delete comments from other people’s photos regardless of how inappropriate they are. That means    they are exposed to whatever comments are written on the people’s sites they follow.
-Decline or accept people who ask to follow them
-Choose who they want to follow by requesting to follow them or simply clicking ‘follow’ if that person’s privacy settings are not private
-Report abuse
-Comment on followers photos and have them comment on their photos

Where Can it All Go Wrong?

In the past month the following tween cases have walked into my office:
-A 12 year old who was exposed to pornography after following “Sexy Babe”. She was too embarrassed to show her mother her profile which included 1147 followers she gained after following the page.
-A 10 year old girl who had a 10 year old boy liking and commenting inappropriately on all her photos. I highly doubt it was a boy her own age, especially since he also asked for her email address so they could stay in touch.
-An 11 year old who was sharing inappropriate semi-naked photos of herself via Instagram with a male she didn’t know.

Steps Every Family Should Take:

Here are some tips to keep kids safe on Instagram:
-Check if your son or daughter has an Instagram account
-If they don’t, it’s ideal to respect the legal age for using Instagram. It’s there for a reason.
-Talk openly about the dangers associated with Instagram
-Create a social media contract for your home which outlines expectations of Instagram’s use. Some things you might include in the contract are:

1. time limits
2. no technology in bedrooms
3. a  rechargeable area for technology during the night
4. rules for how social media is to be used
5. consequences for when rules are broken communication about risks

For a free Social Media contract, visit www.michellemitchell.org

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