According to a study from Kids Live Safe, more than 82% of online sex crimes originate from social networking sites that predators use to gain insight into their victim’s habits and likes. With new apps coming out every day, online predators are exploiting these social networking platforms to target students. So, it is important that parents and educators be aware of the tactics used online by predators in order to keep students safe.
We asked parents, educators, counselors, and safety experts “how do predators find and contact students on social media and online, and what are your best tips for keeping students safe?” Read below for their best social media safety tips.
1. Explain the importance of keeping personally identifiable information off the internet
Aliza Vigderman, Senior Editor, Security.org
- Keep up with the news and how predators find teens vulnerable online
- You can use parental control software on your student’s devices to see their web activity and block certain websites. You can also place computers in public spaces in your home or school so that they can’t sneak on unsafe websites
- Tell them not to speak with strangers online or reveal any of their personally identifiable information (PII), which includes their real names, birth dates, addresses, Social Security numbers, and more
- Install antivirus software on the devices they use, which should block the majority of cyber threats
- Use identity theft protection for families, which scans multiple criminal and financial areas for their PII. It also includes identity restoration and insurance
2. No monitoring app is better than having an ongoing digital safety discussion
Josh Ochs, Founder, SmartSocial
Online predators use apps like Kik Messenger, Bumble, IMVU, and Live.me to target students. While there are many monitoring software and apps available for parents, nothing is better at keeping your kids safe than having an ongoing digital safety discussion. Monitor your child’s digital footprint regularly and use the information you discover to start a dialog. Whenever your student wants a new app, make them the expert and have them teach you about the app; then do some research independently to determine if the app is safe for your family to use.
3. Victims are at risk in gaming platforms with chat rooms
Pavel Ladziak, CEO, The Beard Struggle
Online predators target teens and tweens on gaming platforms. They create fake profiles, pose as a peer, and chat with their target until they convince the target to meet in person.
To protect my son from online predators, I restricted his access to chat-enabled platforms and controlled his privacy settings. I explained to him the importance of not giving his personal information to anyone. My wife and I monitor his online activities. I am striving to communicate openly with my child and bring up topics on online behavior little by little to assure my child that if he needs help, he can always count on me.
4. Set ground rules and lessen their dependence on smartphones
Daniel Carter, Founder, Zippy Electrics
My teenage sons are more knowledgeable in using smart devices and exploring the Internet than I. However, it doesn’t mean I have to ignore their online behavior and let them do everything their way. I set some ground rules in using gadgets and discuss with them the risk of being befriended by online predators.
Online predators are known to target teens with low self-esteem. That’s why we want to reduce students’ dependence on smartphones. We bond over physical activities and play video games together occasionally. I let them know that I am always available for whatever they need. In other words, to keep my teenage sons safe from online predators, I encourage them to spend their time away from their smart devices like riding our electric scooters in the neighborhood.
5. Keep up with news stories about predators and understand that many go unreported
Mo Mullah, Parental Questions
One sad fact about social media crimes is that they are always happening, while only some of them get reported. To keep themselves aware, parents and teachers should keep checking the news about social media crimes. Strangers lure teens and tweens into believing them by using different strategies every time; hence it is important to keep up with local and international news channels.
One effective way to keep yourself updated is by asking questions about unusual activity. Unusual activity may include a stranger messaging, requesting to be a friend, asking for details like address, school name, etc. Educate your students about such types of activities on social media and tell them to report to you if they ever come across any.
It doesn’t matter how normal a person may seem; connecting with strangers is always a risk. Educate teens about the possible dangers of connecting with a stranger on social media. Tell them it is always sensible to avoid such connections. Cybercrime is on the rise, and there are enough examples available to show the reality of the threat that exists.
6. Contact developers and talk about teen safety on their apps
Josh Wright, CEO, CellPhoneDeal
It goes without saying that if your child has a phone, computer, or tablet, they are probably using some form of social media. Aside from simply talking to your kids and letting them know about protecting their digital presence, one thing is to consider contacting the app or game developer. Let them know your concerns and ask what they are doing to protect underage users because let’s face it, underage users are finding ways to use their platforms. Simply hoping that they would respect the “No User’s Under 13” prompt is hardly enough of a safeguard anymore. Just as in real life, let your children know that they shouldn’t be afraid to let you know if someone they don’t know is trying to friend them, add them, or is harassing or blackmailing them.
7. Monitor your student’s online activity
Matt Pinsker, Virginia Commonwealth University
Predators find children primarily through social media. This can start with a friend request on Twitter, a dialogue on a forum, or using a video platform like Omegle. There are a few things parents can do to keep their students safe. First, so the child is not feeling lonely and is less inclined to seek out or be receptive to strangers online, ensure your child has a healthy social life off-screen. Next, monitor your child’s use of the internet and social media. There is software available that will not allow the use of social media without parental permission, as well as block access to adult content but nothing is better than having an open dialog with your children about digital safety. Nothing is better than having an open dialog with your students about digital safety.
8. Let children know they shouldn’t give away personal information online
Joanna Douglas, Clean Affinity
Parents need to be careful about what their kids install on their phones, gaming consoles, and computers. As a parent, I have noticed that even games like Minecraft can be full of predators, not just social media Of course, with your child thinking that all players are ok to talk to, they converse innocently without knowing that they are already giving away their personal information to potential cyberstalkers.
9. Discouraging kids from going online will only make them more curious
John Iannarelli, Former FBI National Spokesperson
The best way to protect your kids from these threats is to educate them about what to say and what not to say. Discouraging them from playing on their phones, tablets, gaming consoles, computers, etc. will only make them more curious. Talk to your students and let them know that they shouldn’t be giving away any piece of information online especially if they do not know who they are playing with.
It’s also ok to install software that will track your child’s activity on the internet or computer. There are loads of screen-sharing applications that you can use to monitor what your child talks about.
10. Remind your teen how easy it is to create a fake profile online by setting up a new account together
Sheri Gazitt, Teen Wise Seattle
One of the reasons that teens like to be online is to connect with new and interesting people. The halls of middle and high school can seem torturous at times with all of the puzzling social hierarchies and demanding schedules. Online is a place where teens can find support from other teens. The issue is that there are predators lurking and listening for the teen that is in need of emotional support. Online predators then exploit that vulnerability.
It’s not difficult to pose as a fellow teen. All it takes is a stolen photograph for a profile pic and a fake bio. In general, tweens and teens are very trusting when it comes to online connections. If someone says they are a teen, they believe them.
To remind our teens how easy it is to create a fake profile, go onto a social media site, and set up a new account together. Have fun looking for the right pictures and creating your dream bio. It’s a fun but important reminder of how easy it is to lie about who you actually are.
11. Talk to kids about the platforms they use
Justin Lavelle, BeenVerified
It’s crucial that parents stay current on what their kids are doing online. Talk to them about which apps, games, and social platforms they use. Set guidelines about where and when they can be on the computer. Make rules regarding who they can talk with, for instance, only people they know in real life.
If your child is into gaming, help them set privacy settings to limit the contacts in their games. Make sure that all privacy settings are on and that you have a good policy in place that you openly and frequently discuss with your child about what can be posted, tweeted, snapped, or shared.
At SmartSocial.com, we recommend that every parent learns as much as they can about the applications their students are downloading and using. Teens can’t avoid using social media apps, online gaming, or the internet. So, instead of telling teens they can’t use certain apps or features (because they will find a way around it), show them why they can be dangerous. Have open and honest communication about what happens to victims when they are targeted by online predators. Make sure your teen always knows that they can talk to you, another trusted adult, guidance counselor, or help hotline.