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Online Safety: Talking to Kids About Privacy on Social Media

Social media is a fantastic way to stay in touch and communicate in both personal and professional scenarios. However, parents should make sure to talk to their kids about online safety. Here are Tutor Doctor’s tips for maintaining privacy on social media!

1. Remain anonymous when possible. How we identify ourselves on the internet is a fascinating topic as the guidelines for “best practice” have changed dramatically over the years. A little over a decade ago, the generally agreed upon rule for online safety was to never use your real name on the internet. Even in the early days of social media (anyone remember Myspace?), accounts were all based on username handles. Today, things are much different – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok all allow displaying your full name, and many professional networking services (LinkedIn, for example) encourage it. While we certainly see the benefits of using our real names to identify ourselves on the web, it’s also easy to understand why this might not be a good idea for kids and teens. Luckily, most social media websites still allow users to go by handles, so parents should remind their kids to use a nickname.

2. Once you post it, it’s online forever. This is an excellent rule of thumb that every single student should keep in mind. Due to the popularity of social media apps that allow sending messages with a “self-destruct” feature (essentially a video can only be viewed once by the recipient before being “deleted” automatically), many users are under the impression they can share content with a reasonable expectation of privacy. This is absolutely not the case! As one example, many users believe the popular social media app “Snapchat” deletes their messages after they have been viewed, with a maximum of 24 hours. Snapchat states openly on their official website that their servers save videos for an entire month, and hackers discovered back in 2013 that it was possible to recover “deleted” Snapchat messages from a user’s phone. Even Twitter archives tweets immediately after they are posted, regardless if they are later deleted, and they are easily recoverable with an online search. And if you’re still not convinced, you can use The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to view “time capsule” versions of websites, to the day, going back to 1996! When it comes to social media, it’s best to remember this golden rule – don’t post something that might come back to haunt you later. This is especially important for kids and teens, as the last thing they want is to spoil a future job opportunity because of something irresponsible they posted years prior.

3. Safety first. This is the easiest tip to follow, because there’s really only two steps. If your child sees something harmful or obscene on social media, report it to the network right away. This includes cyberbullying and harassment, as social networks have a zero-tolerance policy for this behavior. We recommend parents familiarize themselves with the “report” button. If you ever become concerned someone could be in immediate danger, don’t even hesitate – call the police and let local law enforcement deal with it. Social media threats are taken extremely seriously in today’s day and age, so it’s always better to err on the side of safety. Lastly, encourage your children not to interact with strangers or people they don’t already know in real life.

To learn more great tips on social media safety, check out Tutor Doctor’s guide for parents!