Over the last 12 months most of us have spent more time online than ever before. In particular, young people have moved beyond using the internet just to connect with friends or research a school assignment. The internet has been a lifeline and there have been times where young people have spent the majority of their day online during homeschooling.
While we are fortunate to live in a time where a global pandemic means minimal interruption to education, Safer Internet Day is an opportunity to reflect on what we can do to create a better online world for young people.
As a mum, I know that young people are more vulnerable online than others and my job at Facebook is to help keep them safe through our products and policies. Beyond the privacy, safety and security features that are available to all Facebook and Instagram users, we also have a number of additional protections in place to protect minors.
We require everyone to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account on Facebook or Instagram, and in some countries the age limit may be higher. Our privacy and visibility settings are more restrictive for teens than adults. For example, on Facebook, messages sent to minors from adults who are not friends, or friends of friends, are filtered out of the minor’s inbox and sent straight to the spam folder.
Navigating online safety as a parent
I know it can feel overwhelming trying to navigate the ever-changing world of online safety with kids. But the most important thing we can do is to start a dialogue and keep open channels of communication.
Online safety conversations should become part of everyday life—just like conversations about ‘stranger danger’ or crossing the road, and they should start early. Children are often exposed to devices from birth—even just observing their parentsso it’s never too soon to talk about online safety.
As part of conversations about online safety, children should understand that access to devices and the internet comes with responsibility. They also have a role to play in keeping themselves and others safe online.
The Facebook Parent Portal (facebook.com/safety/parents) and Instagram Parent’s Guide (about.instagram.com/community/parents) are great resources for parents and caregivers and include details on how the apps work, tips on talking to your kids and advice from experts, but below are my five top tips for keeping your kids safe online.
Stay involved in their digital world: Spend time with your kids online. If your kids like playing video games, sit with them while they're doing this. If your teen is on Facebook or Instagram, have a discussion about friending or following them. Talk to them frequently about who they are connecting with and what they are sharing. Let them know they can come to you if they see or experience something online that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Use privacy and security settings: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger have settings to give people control over what they share, who they share it with, what they see, and who can contact them. Many of these are turned on by default for minors, but you should run through the privacy and security settings regularly.
Set family rules: Agree as a family on the rules for using devices, accessing the internet and social media and be clear on the consequences for violating these rules. Depending on the age of your kids, you may talk about more serious consequences (such as legal consequences) of sharing certain types of content such as non-consensual intimate imagery.
Lead by example: If you set a rule like ‘no screen time after 8pm’ or ‘no devices in the bedroom’—you should try to follow this too.
Learn from your kids: Technology evolves constantly, and young people are fast adopters. If your kids start using a new app, ask them to show you how it works. It’s an opportunity to connect with your child, see what they are doing online and have a conversation about online safety. You should also do your own research on the app’s privacy, safety and security features.
Amber Hawkes is Head of Safety, Facebook, Asia Pacific. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.