Keeping up with a teenager online is not easy. While 70% of parents with children from age 6-9, think they know a lot or most of what their children do when using technology or going online, this drops to 34% for parents of teens according to FOSI research. When CommonSense Media asked teens, less than a third of them say their parents know “a lot” about what they do online. In fact, most teens say their parents do not know a lot about the media they use other than what TV shows they watch.
Teens Sharing More Personal Information Online
As teens join more networks, they share more information. While they may want to remain hidden from adults, they do want their friends to find them online. In order to make themselves visible to their friends, they are disclosing more information. 91% post a photo of themselves, 71% post their school name and 92% post their real name to the profile they use most often.
Pictures and posts can spread much farther than they ever envisioned. In the past, teens have relied on privacy through obscurity believing the vast sea of digital content would conceal their one post or picture from view. Yet, because companies are developing faster and better ways to find content online, these buried items can surface.
This increased visibility can lead to unforeseen audiences. While parents view the digital world as a public space, teens see it as their own private space. Online is where they meet up after school to hang out with friends or work on a class project. Unlike a conversation in the hall, classmates can copy and forward text messages verbatim to anyone. In turn, other people can share them with a vast online audience. The bottom line is that in the wired world, teens never know where a message may end up and who will see it.
How to Protect Teens’ Information Online
Soon, high school students will be applying for jobs, scholarships or college. To prepare, they need to see how easy their information is to find, what information is online and what does it say about them. By setting up a profile with privacy in mind from the beginning and periodic privacy audits, families can work together to make sure their teen is sharing the right information with the right audience.
Internet Safety Tips for Protecting Teens’ Privacy Online
Choose Unique Usernames
Many teens use the same username for their Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts. Yes, this makes it easier to connect with friends but it also ties together a lot of personal information. If your friends can easily find you, so can others. Keep information separate by creating unique usernames for each account and different passwords.
Utilize Privacy Settings
Although there are no privacy guarantees online, teens should still try to control their content by using privacy settings. For them, sharing online can feel more like chatting with friends or writing in a diary rather than broadcasting live on television. When at all possible, they should set their posts and profiles to private.
This is one of the most powerful privacy tools. If a profile is set for private but a teen has 1000 friends, then 1000 people can see and potentially share their photos. Teens should either limit their circle of friends or treat their popular private account as public. The more followers, the more chances one will share a private post or picture more widely.
Establish a Policy on Posting
Families should respect everyone’s privacy by instituting an ask before posting policy. Teens should not post pictures of their friends or anyone else without asking. A great way to model this rule is for parents to ask their teen before posting a photo online.
Search Their Name
This is the time to sit down and search your teen’s name and sees what is out there. The first page of results is the most important. Parents will find most popular social networks, such as Instagram and Twitter, appear on the first page. Parents and teens should review these results and make sure this information supports their resume or application.
Search Profile Pictures
As technologies improve, digital information is becoming easier and easier to find. Part of this is the ability to search not only with text but also with searching via an image. Besides searching their name, teens should conduct an image search and review all pictures online. They can choose to either remove their own photo or if posted by someone else ask their friend to remove it or at least remove the tag.
Create a Positive Profile
Instead of hiding everything, teens should build a public, positive digital image. By giving people something to find, teens can enhance their application or resume. A great place to do that is Facebook. Teens are moving off Facebook, preferring to share with friends through Instagram or Snapchat. However, Facebook comes up high in search results and many colleges and employers have Facebook pages. Teens can transform their idle Facebook profile into their social resume.
Managing their online privacy is an essential life skill. Too often online, kids get ahead of where they are socially and emotionally. By using Parental Control Software by Familoop, parents can open up the Internet slowly. Parents can initially limit the number of social networks and contacts. As their child acquires more skills, they can gain more access.
Anne Livingston currently works with Familoop as Digital Parenting Expert. During the school year, she speaks to PTAs and parents about online privacy and offers parenting tutorials on managing social media. Anne’s book, “Talking Digital: A Parent’s Guide for Teaching Kids How to Share Smart and Stay Safe Online”, is available on Amazon.