Two boys watching smartphone photos

LaVarr McBride is a professor of Criminology at Penn State and recently spoke at the Northwest Coalition for Healthy Intimacy’s annual conference in Portland, Oregon. I was there and took copious notes to share with you! (You also may order the DVD of the entire conference here. Highly recommended!)

Here are seven tips he shared to help your kids stay safe online.

Social Media & Tech Tips for Parents

  • Tip 1: Know every friend on your child’s social media accounts. Did you know that 30% of Facebook profiles are FAKE ID’s—many of whom are pedophiles or sex offenders trying to contact your children? Make sure you and your child knows each friend in the physical world and never friend anyone you don’t know.
  • Tip 2: Teach your child not to disclose private information because nothing is really private on social media, despite “privacy” settings. According to McBride, Facebook users disclose way too my information about themselves. Don’t post your telephone number, address, name of school, or any information a predator could use to gain access to your child.
  • Tip 3: Disable the GPS location setting on mobile devices. Now this gets creepy. Watch the video below and see how easy it is to use social media and geo-tagging to stalk people in a public place. McBride told a story about a predator whose victim had posted on social media that she would meet her friends at a certain movie theater at a certain time that evening. He was able to assault her because he arrived before her friends. McBride warned that predators are smart and use technology to find and assault victims.

Jack Vale’s Social Media Experiment

  • Tip 4: No devices in bedrooms at night. Kids often find it difficult to turn off their connection to friends and social networks. Make it a rule to charge all devices by your bedside at night.
  • iStock_000037398698SmallTip 5: Help your kids find a healthy amount of social media interaction. McBride advises parents not to “yank” technology away from kids, but to work with them and help them develop healthy habits. Texting can become addictive. In fact, an average of 2272 texts are sent per user each month! That’s over 75 texts per day. And it’s causing failing grades, sleep deprivation and even repetitive stress injuries in kids.
  • Tip 6: Warn kids about sexting or engaging in revenge porn. I know—your child would never do this. But 1 out of 5 kids are sexting, and they can be charged with child porn. Just warn them with this story McBride told about an 18 year old young man whose girlfriend broke up with him. To get revenge, a buddy of his suggested that he Photoshop her face onto a pornographic image and send it to a few of their friends. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of texting it to all 475 people on his phone list including her, his parents, his teachers, and his religious leaders. He was arrested and taken to federal court for distributing child pornography (his ex-girlfriend was under the age of 18) and then sent to prison for four years. True story.
  • Tip 7: No personal email accounts—all kids should use a family account so that parents can monitor correspondence.  Search for “safe email for kids” and you’ll find several options. If you want your kids to have their own email account, make sure you set it up and keep the password so you can regularly monitor messages.(This can nip a lot of peer problems in the bud!)

iStock mom and daughter reading

And here’s my two cents about giving mobile devices to your kids: don’t! If you want them to have access to an iPad, tablet or smartphone, buy them for the family and lend them out to your kids on your terms. You approve all apps, you have the account info, and you oversee their use of the Internet. There’s a big psychological difference between a child “owning” a mobile device and “borrowing” it from you.

I hope this has been helpful! It’s a scary world out there, but it only gets safer for kids when we as parents face it head on with good information.

What have you done to help your kids use social media and technology in appropriate, healthy ways? Share your two cents!

Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.