Talking about online safety with your child isn’t easy. Ask him what he does on Facebook and he might think you’re being controlling or nosy. One way to tackle this is to ask general questions and let him do the talking, so you can tell how much he knows about Facebook safety.
#1 “ARE YOU PRETTY CLOSE TO EVERYONE ON YOUR FACEBOOK FRIENDS LIST?”
Many of the people on his friends list could just be acquaintances or friends of other friends. Make sure all of your child’s Facebook friends are people he knows – and has met personally. He must understand that sharing information, photos and details about his personal life (such as where he lives or goes to school) with strangers can be dangerous. You can also ask your child what makes him certain that a Facebook contact is who he says he is, and then discuss how it’s common for people online to pretend to be someone they’re not.
#2 “DO YOU KNOW WHAT PHOTOS WE SHOULD AND SHOULDN’T POST?”
Explain that you’d like his opinion on which photos are acceptable and which are not. Ask to look through his and your Facebook photos together. When viewing the photos, look out for any of kids in swimwear, and identifiers such as car registration plates, school uniforms and school buildings.
Discuss why some photos might threaten his safety more than others. For example, seemingly wholesome pictures of kids in swimsuits may get into the wrong hands and be distributed on child porn websites. And photos with identifiers can make your child an easy target for anyone who might want to harm him.
#3 “DO YOU OFTEN SHARE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS ON FACEBOOK?”
Make sure your child understands that whatever he posts may be stored online permanently. It could land on a search engine and affect his future – for example, his ability to get a scholarship or a job when he is older.
Posting photos all the time could be a warning sign that he’s spending too much time online or is unable to socialise outside of Facebook.
4# “HOW OFTEN DO YOU CHECK YOUR FACEBOOK ACCOUNT?”
A “fear of missing out” is what drives many young people to check their Facebook accounts frequently throughout the day. The problem here is that your child may be prioritising Facebook over more important activities. Plus, the more often he logs on, the more he’s at risk of cyber-bullying.
Create boundaries by giving him set times to get on Facebook – for example, after finishing his homework – and by disallowing smartphones, laptops and tablets in his bedroom at night.
#5 “CAN YOU SHOW ME HOW TO MAKE MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT PRIVATE?”
By asking this question, you are acknowledging and respecting the fact that your child knows about social media. He will also like that you’re asking him for advice. It allows you to see what he knows and doesn’t know about privacy, giving you the opportunity to talk about what people can see on your account, as well as who can read your posts and contact you. Make sure your child knows the importance of setting his account privacy to “friends only”.
#6 “WHAT DOES ‘FRIENDS OF FRIENDS’ MEAN AND WHO CAN SEE MY POST IF IT’S SET TO ‘FRIENDS OF FRIENDS’?”
Once again, you are building trust by asking your child for advice. It makes him feel needed and respected, which will make him more likely to open up if he’s ever cyber-bullied.
“Friends of friends” means that each friend’s friend can see what you post. So if your child has 50 friends and each of those friends has 50 friends, then that’s 2,500 more people who can see what he has posted. Explain this and discuss the possible negative consequences of 2,500 people being privy to his profile, personal information and photos.
#7 “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE RESTRICTED LIST IS FOR?”
It’s not likely that he’d know. In Facebook, you can assign friends to specific lists you create. When you post something, you select which list sees that post.
One handy list is the restricted list, which is for friends who can only see profile information and posts that you’ve chosen to make public. By creating it, your child can still look cool by having many friends, but he can make sure the people he doesn’t really know cannot see anything he posts privately.
#8 “WHAT DO YOU DO WITH YOUR FRIENDS THAT FACEBOOK MAKES EASIER?”
Using Facebook has a number of benefits so this question gives you a better idea of how he uses social media, and the things he does online. It will also help you gauge whether or not your child is using his social media account responsibly.
#9 “ARE THERE THINGS YOU USED TO DO WITH YOUR FRIENDS THAT YOU DON’T DO ANYMORE BECAUSE YOU’RE ALL ON FACEBOOK NOW?”
This is a great question to subtly find out if your child is having any issues with his friends on Facebook or if there are signs of bullying. If your child mentions that he is not speaking to a particular friend anymore or only communicating with certain people online, this question can help to highlight these activities and allow you to find out more, or suggest that your child do other things offline.
#10 “HAVE YOU EVER SEEN SOMEONE GET BULLIED ON FACEBOOK?”
This gets your child to talk about people he knows who may have been bullied, and opens the lines of communication so that if he ever gets cyber-bullied, he will go to you for help rather than try to cope on his own.
Follow up this question with: “What do you think cyber-bullying is, and what do you do if someone bullies you online?” Make sure that your child understands what constitutes online bullying and discuss how it can affect his life.
Typical signs of being bullied include a reluctance to go to school, falling behind in schoolwork, becoming withdrawn or aggressive, feeling anxious while online, becoming depressed, angry or frustrated after using the computer, mood swings, and suddenly becoming uninterested in online activities. You may want to ask your child if he’s ever felt this way, to get some clues about whether or not he’s been a victim.
Ross Bark, cyber-safety expert, Best Enemies Education Program
Robyn Rishani, cyber-safety expert and founder of Your Kids Online
This story was first published in Simply Her May 2014.