5 Strategies to Keep Teens Safe on Facebook

Establish rules to keep your teen safe on Facebook. Brendan O'Sullivan/Getty Images

Facebook is the 900 pound gorilla of the social media jungle, boasting over one billion users, many of whom are teenagers. In fact, the Pew Internet & American Life Project  revealed that that over 94% of U.S. teens with access to a computer or smartphone maintain an active Facebook profile—often without their parents’ knowledge or permission.

 It’s no secret that some people use social media in some less-than-admirable ways, and most parents automatically assume that Facebook will lead to the death of their teen’s innocence.

However, forbidding kids to use these sites has proven to be rather ineffective because, according to Youth Ministry Media, only 15% of parents are aware of their teen’s social media presence. It’s very difficult to control your teen’s Internet activity, especially since online research is often required for homework assignments and school projects.

Rather than forbid your teen from using sites like Facebook, try taking a more effective approach toward social media safety by educating them on the many dangers lurking in the shadows of the Internet. The five lessons outlined below will provide your teen with the knowledge and tools necessary to become a savvy (and safe) Facebook user.

Read More: 10 Social Networking Sites Teens Are Using

1. Make Sure Profiles Are Completely Private 

It’s extremely important to make sure your teen is always up-to-date on Facebook’s privacy settings, which have been known to change without a public announcement.

The default profile setting is “public,” meaning that any one of Facebook’s billion plus users could have full access to your teen’s profile, including their photos, status updates, location check-ins, and anything else that is posted on their profile.

Many users aren’t aware of this, and they unknowingly share information that is meant for their friends, but is actually visible to all.

Facebook provides users with several different options when it comes to who can and cannot see their information. Every couple months or so, have your teen go into their privacy settings to ensure that every option is set to “Friends only.”

Read More: Establishing Cell Phone Rules for Teens

 2. Never Accept Friend Requests From Strangers 

Once your teen has set their profile to private, the only people that can view their page are users who they have accepted as friends. Now they need to make sure they’re not accepting random friend requests because doing so would completely negate the purpose of the privacy settings. Tell them to only add people who they know in person, and make sure they know not to accept friend requests from people they’ve never met, especially adults (more on that later).  

3. Don’t Share Any Personal Information

Teens have a tendency to forget about (or ignore) the dangers of the Internet. Dangerous situations are even more likely to occur when people share personal information on social media because, believe it or not, cybercriminals lurk around social media sites looking for these type of posts. Tell your teen that they should never share addresses, logins, passwords, bank account numbers, etc.

This may sound like a given, but you’d be surprised at how many people are guilty of sharing sensitive information online.  

 4. Help Others Who Are Being Bullied Online  

Online bullying, commonly referred to as cyberbullying, is a massive problem among today’s youth. Teens are right at the center of the issue because they’re most likely to bully others, be bullied themselves, or watch as someone else is tormented online. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, over 43% of teens have reported being a victim of cyberbullying in the past year. Your teen should know that they can always come to you if they are being harassed online, but unfortunately many teens don’t take the same action when someone else is being targeted.

This is a big part of the overall problem because, if no one is coming to the victims’ defense, the bullying continues and often gets progressively worse over time. If a friend is being bullied on Facebook, your teen shouldn’t just sit back and let it happen. They should be proactive and either tell the bully to stop, or report the problem to a teacher or parent.

5. Report Any Unfamiliar Adult Who Tries To Initiate Conversation  

Generally speaking, adults should not initiate a conversation with a minor online unless they’re a relative, close family friend, athletic coach, etc., but even seemingly innocent conversations like these can take a turn for the worst at any moment. The key here is for teens to learn how to recognize a conversation that is inappropriate or crosses the line in any way. Not only is it creepy and wrong, but these situations can be extremely dangerous, hence the term “online predator.” The scariest part is that an increasing number of these criminals have turned to social media sites like Facebook in their attempts to identify and target their victims. They usually start the grooming process by initiating a conversation via chat, then the predator brings up a topic of the teen’s interest (usually learned from studying their profile) as a way to “break the ice.”

Kids and teens are often hard-wired to trust adults, so when a stranger sends them a friend request, it doesn’t usually set off any alarms. The best way to protect your teen from heinous online predators, or any online danger for that matter, is to educate them and ensure that they fully understand which incidents are cause for concern. 

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