Talking to kids about Facebook, privacy and safety

Teens Using LaptopThis will be the third year in a row that I have been given an opportunity to talk with 9th graders at the local high school about Facebook, privacy, online safety, etc. It’s interesting each year because the kids confirm to me that they are more active than we adults realize and that many of them lie to their parents — or simply sidestep the truth — about their participation in the online world.

It’s certainly easier to ask modern 15yo’s to raise their hand if they’re not on Facebook than if they are, that’s for sure. Most of them also now have smartphones or at least surprisingly sophisticated cellphones that give them some limited Internet and Web access, and of course every single one of them is a texting fiend, often texting late into the night, all while us clueless ‘rents relax into our pillows, dreaming about what angels we have as children.

It ain’t so.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom and as you’d expect if you thought about it, the biggest issue that I experience talking with these teens is that they’re clueless much more than looking for trouble. Simple observations like how your postings on Facebook can be easily shared with people you don’t know, and examples of how photos in front of houses where there’s a visible house number can in a short period be identified through Google Street View tend to make them very quiet as they rethink their usage.

And that’s good. That’s my goal. I am not a fearmonger and believe that the chance of any given child encountering a pedophile or being kidnapped or attacked because of their online usage is essentially nil. In fact, there’s a much higher risk from family members and other people that they already know from their social or academic life.

Every year, however, I also realize that there are new things that have come along that are worth discussing, particularly when I step beyond just Facebook and talk about the entire world of communication and technology.

Here’s my rough agenda for the 35 minutes I’ve been allocated:

* there’s no privacy on the Internet
* how many programs automatically add your location info (including pictures taken with smartphones)
* how tools like Google Streetview can make it easy for some creep to figure out where photos are taken
* texting and sexting (we’re debating whether to include this topic)
* some of the settings you can tweak on Facebook to make it more privacy and secure.

What am I missing? What risks and concerns do you have and what topics would you like to have raised with your own teen son or daughter in the interest of them learning how to be safe and smart as they go deeper and deeper into the online world?

9 comments on “Talking to kids about Facebook, privacy and safety

  1. Dave this is a very important topic that kids need to understand and most of them don’t realize that anything that they post on facebook can be viewed and used by anyone with an internet connection. Not only can the images they post be shared by others, but they can be lifted from the page without them even knowing it has happened to them. They should not post any image of themselves that should not be viewed by everyone that can access their page. Also, their profile should not contain any personal information and that goes for parents as well. Not too long ago I was viewing a friend of a friend’s profile and saw that she had listed her address and phone number as well as photos of her very young daughter. I sent her a private message to let her know that she was endangering herself and her child by sharing that information and she immediately removed it. One more item that you could inform them of is the sexting danger. A few months ago I received a text message that included a photo of a girl who was exposing breasts to the camera and this photo was sent to me by mistake. I had no idea who the person in the photo was or the number it came from. But, had I been so inclined I could have done some really bad things with that photo. Some of the kids think that the images are safe just because only so and so has access to them, but those photos can easily fall into the wrong hands if that phone is lost or stolen.

  2. Remind them that just as they can change their age when they chat on the internet so can other people … so the 13 year old boy or girl could actually be a 45 year old. Chat rooms/forums can be dangerous.

  3. I’m currently putting together a business plan for an idea I’ve been thinking about for a few years, prompted by the fact that my kids are approaching smart phone age. I’d love to get inputs from you (or anyone else with an opinion) on the concept, which I’m calling “Harness the Monster” — please see my website home page for an overview.


  4. One thing they need to realize is once they put it on the web its there, FOREVER. Prospective empolyers can and will look for this type of info.

  5. These are all good points, Dave. I agree wholeheartedly that most of the problem is indeed ‘clueless-ness’ rather than malicious intent.

    35 minutes is so short to address all these points though. I think that many of these topics may already be understood quite well by that age group.

    Depending on how interactive you’re able to be in the setting, you could challenge them to show you how to set up a group with correct security settings. (and maybe be amazed how well versed they already are) ~ the ones that are truly not aware of these powerful setting inside Facebook, can then be motivated by their own peers’ know-how.

    Either way, I’m sure it will be an educational experience for everyone.

    Looking forward seeing your report on how it went!

    Best wishes, always.
    father, friend, neighbor and in the time that’s left: web developer 🙂

  6. I forgot to add a tip I’ve used on kids as well as adults:

    Imagine showing whatever you’re going to put online to your grandmother first. Say to yourself “Hey Grandma, look at this. What do you think?” … and if it feels like you don’t want your grandmother to see it, then it probably should not be online either.

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