Safe Online Social Networking Sites for Kids & Teens
Worrying about how to keep your kids safe online with safe social networking sites for kids? Concerned about sites like Facebook? Here are a few guidelines to consider with your kids and teens.
Consider starting with kid-friendly sites:
In addition to mainstream sites like Facebook, which don’t allow kids under the age of 13 to join, there are a number of safe social networking sites for kids that parents should consider for younger children.
For 7 to 9-year-olds, check out:
Many of the sites recommended for younger kids should be good for tweens as well, though some kids may be growing out of them. In addition to the list above, there are a few sites aimed straight at tweens.
For 10 to 12-year-olds, check out:
Teens will probably want to move on from these sites to more grown-up options like Facebook. Parents should decide ahead of time what age they’d like kids to be when they join mainstream social sites, and what the rules will be as teens earn more privileges online.
Talk about the risks:
As many teenagers and recent college graduates have discovered, pictures, words, and records available online are hard to erase and available to everyone, including potential employers, college admittance committees, and parents. This means kids should carefully consider whether they’d want a teacher, parent, or even grandparent to see what they’ve posted. If not, it’s best not to put it up.
In addition to risks to your child’s reputation online, posting on social networks can pose serious safety risks. As a public forum, a Facebook profile or a friend’s wall are not safe places for your child to share personal information like a phone number or an address. Be sure your kids know what information they need to keep private and what is ok to share online.
Educate Your Kids:
Begin the conversation about what is and is not appropriate to share online when your kids are young. The youngest children probably don’t need too much detail about the dangers of the Internet, but parents should keep a close eye on their activities and make online activity an open conversation at home. Tweens may be ready for more detailed information about how to stay safe online, as well as a little more freedom so they can practice the skills they’ll need as responsible teens and young adults.
Set up some ground rules:
When you decide that your child is ready to have a profile on a social networking site, take some time to explain what the rules are and what you expect. Be clear about behavior that is not allowed, and explain that you’ll be keeping an eye on what goes on. For some parents, rules include things like:
- Kids must “friend” parents and other adult relatives.
- No sharing personal information like your phone number or address.
- No inappropriate conversations or pictures.
- Parents have to approve new friends.
Remember to supervise:
When you begin allowing your child to browse the Internet and have his or her own profile on social sites, you should also begin controlling what sites are allowed. Most major parental control software options (we like Net Nanny the best, but we’ve reviewed a number of other programs as well if you need help picking one out) offer different filtering settings for different age groups, so the software should age well with your kids. We recommend being open with kids about what software you’re using and what you’re keeping track of. Most kids are very tech-savvy and will notice the monitoring, so use this opportunity to discuss what you’re doing to keep them safe and why monitoring is important.
Just like you’d check in on your kids if they were hanging out with their friends at your house, check in on your kids online. Though they’ll probably also have access to social sites outside the house (at the library or in school, for example) consider keeping the computer your child uses to access Facebook or another social site out in a public part of the home, like a hallway or the family room, and try to be around when your child is online.
If you’re friends with your teen on Facebook (and you should be!) check in on their wall and profile regularly to see what your child and his or her friends are up to. Particularly if you’re not an experienced Facebook user, parental control software can help you with this task, sending email alerts when there’s activity. Check to be sure the parental control software you’ve chosen offers the tools you want to keep track of activity on all the sites your child uses, including social networks. (You can take a look at our parental control reviews if you need help figuring this out.)
Keep the conversation open:
As your child earns new privileges and confronts new challenges online, keep the conversation about online safety and responsibility open. Talk to your kids about what to do if they encounter behavior or material that makes them uncomfortable.
If you see content or conversations you’re worried about on your teen’s page, use Facebook as a way to start the conversation. For example, you might say, “I saw on Facebook that your friend Jessica was talking about drinking at the party last weekend. How do you feel about that?” Staying engaged with your kids online can also help you understand their social group and friends better, and can give you a peek into the private world of older kids.
Keeping track of your kids’ lives online can help you teach them to handle themselves safely and responsibly online as young adults, so take advantage of the time you have with teenagers to explain the risks and rewards of participating in social networks.
This guest post comes from Mary Humphreys, an editor with online consumer information site NextAdvisor.com. NextAdvisor offers independent reviews of a wide range of consumer sites and services, including parental control software, custom photo cards, credit monitoring services, VoIP phone service, and web hosting.