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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

(Editor’s note: please welcome Leslie’s advice for protecting the privacy of our children online. Thanks, Leslie!)

You never know who is watching you on the Web

Teenagers all over the globe use the Internet everyday to chat with friends, upload pictures to Facebook, share videos on YouTube, tweet their every movement and even check in to specific locations all over town. However, while they’re surfing the Web, posting their cell numbers and telling their 500 Facebook friends exactly where they are, are they worried about online privacy? Probably not! My teen wasn’t concerned either, until she became the victim of cyber bullying. Things spun out of control quickly and soon I was contacting attorneys in Louisiana, our home state, to find out what could be done to protect my daughter’s reputation.

Parents are correct to be worried about online predators and the very personal information that their teens might be sharing online. The truth of the matter is; the way we share information online can affects our real lives in various ways:

  • Friends, family members and new acquaintances make judgments based on your social network profiles
  • Hiring managers and bosses check social networking sites before they hire you
  • College admissions may look up applicant’s profiles before college interviews
  • Identity thieves and other predators are hoping to get into profiles to find personally identifiable information that can use to commit crimes
  • Cyber bullies will intentionally misrepresent their identity, age, or intentions on social networking websites to take advantage of naive social media users.

Protect your online privacy because you never know who is watching you online Parents should have teens consider the following questions: You might think the pictures you post of yourself doing a beer stand that raging high school party is just innocent fun. Or how about those sexy pictures you took for your boyfriend? What if you two breakup and he decided to be vindictive? How about that super cute girl you added last week? You’ve never met her, but she’s a teen like you so it’s probably harmless right? Are you certain your profile is safe and that only your friends can see it?

1. Who do you want to share information with?
A good rule of thumb is before posting anything on the Internet, you need to ask yourself, “Is this something I want everyone to know?” If it’s something you would only share with your closest friends, chances are it will eventually affect your online and personal reputation in a negative way. Plus, anything that exists on the Web, exists there for life. You never know who will download or scan copies of your photos for themselves or take information you say out of context and use it against you at a later date.

2. Strangers are not friends
Another good rule to social network by is to only accept people you know as friends. Should you receive a friend request from a person you don’t know in real life—don’t accept the friend request. You might think that collecting random friends is a great idea to get your friend numbers so that you look cool, but in reality you are putting your privacy at risk. There is no gray area between a creepy old dude and a hot young dude. Only add people you know in person—like friends from school, coworkers from your part time job, or teammates from your hockey league. A friend of a friend is OK, as long as you’ve met the person previously.

3. Manage your privacy settings on social networks
To avoid random connection requests from people that you don’t know, manage your privacy settings by setting them as high as possible. Keeping your Facebook account secure by:

  • Only allow pre-approved friends to view your profile
  • Only allowing friends to find you via general searches
  • Protect your profile from acquaintances you don’t know well by allowing photo albums and private info, like phone numbers, only to be viewed by close circles
  • Shut off any tools that allow you or your friends to check you into specific locations
  • Don’t post your address or photos of you in front of your home
  • Don’t post pictures of younger siblings and tag it with their name

4. Don’t give up personal information about yourself
Teens are common targets for identity theft because they are willing to over-share information—especially online where they don’t often see the ramifications right away.

To avoid becoming a target for identity theft:

  • Don’t post any sensitive info –including home address, phone number, email address, account passwords, Social Security numbers, financial information or place of work—online
  • Don’t give any information about your parents, their jobs, the private things they say to you about other people (e.g., your teachers or their bosses)
  • If you are the victim of cyber bullying, tell your parents right away
  • If you fear your identity has been stolen, tell your parents and report it to the police right away to prevent long-term financial damage

(Final note from the Editor who can’t quite shut up: Teens are much more vulnerable to predators than they will EVER realize. Given that this is a time of life when they’re experimenting with adult behaviors, it’s incumbent on parents to be even more vigilant and protective. Yes, this will annoy the daylights out of the teens. I’ll take an annoyed son who’s been kept safe over the alternative any day of the week.)

Earnest Parenting: helping parents keep their teens safe.

Image courtesy of Andreas-photography via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.