Predators on the Prowl

Because of the veil of anonymity afforded by social media, some sexual predators pose as imposters, giving false information about their age and identity, including criminal histories, in order to gain the trust of "friends." They quite simply pretend to be someone that they are not. Beyond this, recent research indicates that most predators are actually up front in engaging their victims online. They just search for kids who are willing to interact with them. In fact, of the kids who are victimized by sexual predators, most willingly meet with the predator knowing that they are interested in sex. Kids who engage in at-risk behaviors "offline" also turn out to be the most at-risk online.[iv]

Experimenting

Many kids use social media to experiment with their social skills. The online atmosphere emboldens kids to communicate in ways that they would not when in face-to-face conversation, or to engage in behaviors they typically would not. Sexual comments, "sexting" (taking semi-nude, nude, or other provocative photos for distribution via the Internet or cell phones, as well as receiving and forwarding them to others,) criticisms, rants, and even cyber-bullying, are all commonly found in social media venues.

Set Appropriate Boundaries and Provide Intentional Oversight for Social Media.

• Follow Website Rules and Safety Tips, and Set Privacy Settings.

If you allow your kids to have access to social media, be sure to follow the rules and tips provided on specific websites. Additionally, when setting up a social networking account, be sure to access the security settings area, click on "privacy settings" and then set the desired settings to make sure you're child's profile is private to ensure only designated "friends" can access their profile.

• Set-up a closed circle of "friends."

On social networking websites, only allow your kids to designate as "friends" people whom they know and of whom you approve. This will only allow your kids to communicate with a specific, closed group of people.

• Don't allow kids to add new "friends" without your permission.

It's likely that over time, your children will want to add additional "friends" to their social networking profile. Also, understand that it's likely that your children will receive requests from people they don't know to be added to their "friend" list. Set an expectation that no person can be added to the "friend" list without your permission.

• Don't allow your kids to provide any personal information.

Don't allow kids to post any information that would make it easy for a stranger to find them like addresses, phone numbers, where they regularly hang out, where they work and what time they get off work.

• Don't allow kids to set up multiple profiles using multiple email accounts.

From the beginning, set the expectation that your child is allowed only one account on a social networking website. Make sure your child understands that a violation of this expectation is cause for disciplinary action.

• Make it clear that you intend to be a "friend" and will regularly check your child's profile.

Your child will likely balk at this rule, as he or she will want their profile to be private, free from a parent's view. Don't give in. This will serve a couple of good purposes, both to ensure your children think through what to post on their profile before they do so, and it also gives you the opportunity to view the content that others post on the profile, as well. Be sure to follow through. "Friend" you child and visit their profile frequently.