Worried About Online Safety For Kids? Facebook Has Answers.

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 
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Unless you’ve been living completely off-grid or are inhabiting a tent in the wilderness without a Wi-Fi connection, chances are the Internet plays a role in your and your kid’s lives. In fact, these days, most of my conversations with other parents have something to do with the Internet, technology and screentime. We roll our eyes at the latest YouTube sensation. We wring our hands wondering when it’s the right time to get our kids their own phone. We ask each other about screen time limits, and share information about video game ratings.

And always, at the back of our minds is the nagging question: am I doing enough to make sure my kids are safe?

February 6th is Safer Internet Day, which is an international “call to action for every stakeholder to play their part in creating a better internet for everyone, in particular the youngest users out there.” We recently had a chance to talk to the folks at Facebook – the social media platform of choice for many of us (and our kids) – about internet safety.

“Safer Internet Day is a day to step back and focus on online safety, but at Facebook we think about it every day,” Antigone Davis, Global Head of Safety for Facebook, told Scary Mommy.

A mom, former teacher, and former policy advisor, Davis helps the tech giant address cyber-safety issues, and she has also spoken to hundreds of families to help them take advantage of all that the Internet has to offer while also ensuring that their kids are protected.

When asked about what parents can do to keep their kids safe on the Internet, Davis said that, first and foremost, parents need to trust themselves. And in fact, most parents do. A recent survey conducted by Facebook confirmed that most parents (77%) say that are the most appropriate to decide the right age for and amount of online activity.

Davis reminds parents that many of the safety skills used offline also apply to online safety. “Just like you’d talk to kids about looking both ways when cross street, you want to talk to kids about safety online,” Davis said.

She also stressed the importance of having conversations about safe and responsible online behavior as early as possible. When kids are younger, she said, it’s much easier to set parameters regarding technology use in the family and reinforce those parameters, than it is to introduce rules for the first time when the child is in their teen years.

Finally, she suggests that parents be good role models for responsible Internet use, though Davis admits that this is hard even for her. “When my daughter got her first phone, we asked her to put the phone down an hour before bed,” she said. “So, I had to do that too.” She said it wasn’t always easy, but it helped shape her family’s standards regarding responsible Internet use.

As a parent, not only am I concerned with the addictive nature of the Internet and technology apps, but also with cyber bullying. Fortunately, this seems to be an issue that many tech companies also take seriously. For instance, Facebook has a Bullying Prevention Hub within its Safety Center filled with resources to help parents, teens, and educators deal with these issues from all angles.

Of course, parents should take a few minutes to double-check the privacy settings on their children’s devices (and any devices they use, for that matter). For instance, on Facebook, you can set your privacy settings to public, friends, or customizable groups of people. Facebook also offers a privacy check-up that prompts you to periodically check your privacy settings to make sure they are up-to-date.

There are parental controls that can be enabled to prohibit certain content from being accessible, as well. But Internet safety takes more than a check-the-box approach.

As a mom, Davis also has a number of practical tips for parents. For instance, she said that whenever her daughter downloaded new apps, she took the time to have her daughter show her how the app worked. They talked about why her daughter liked the app, and that conversation provided an opportunity to look into the safeguards in place.

Ultimately, Davis wants parents to know that Facebook is listening to them. After talking with thousands of parents and parent groups, Facebook recently launched Messenger Kids, an app designed to allow kids to message friends and family in a controlled environment. Unlike the Facebook platform, which requires a child to be at least 13 years old, parents control the app, and content (such as gifs) are age-appropriate.

When asked for some mom-to-mom advice on dealing with Internet safety, Davis reiterated the importance of engaging in conversations about Internet safety early.

“It’s never too soon to start talking about it,” said Davis.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go have a conversation with my son about the apps he downloaded over the weekend.

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