Social media sites are brimming with instant self-portraits, and children and teens are especially adept at taking and sharing images of themselves online. But it can be just as safely assumed that tweens and teens, and not only they, are far less aware of the risks that profuse and thoughtless sharing of selfies and group selfies can entail.
Here’s what you need to know, and teach your kids, before they hold their smartphones at arm’s length, or enlist the help of a selfie stick, and share photos with the online world. In fact, remember that even sending a picture privately may result in unintended consequences, as once it’s shared, you have no control over what happens to it.
Tech-savvy cybercriminals can glean enough information from a photo, and your child or their pals needn’t even make any revealing comments after the image goes public.
For one thing, if the phone has geolocation enabled, your child may be giving away his or her whereabouts, since the current location is saved and shared along with the photo. Combined with other seemingly innocuous details from the image or the child’s social media profile, this can be misused by thieves, sexual predators and other ill-intentioned individuals.
Also, even if geolocation is disabled, small details in the background, such as street names or landmarks, may reveal sensitive information about your child’s – and your entire family’s – location or other sensitive things such as precious belongings. This can put all of you in physical danger in the real world.
There are also hazards, such as cyberbullying, that may unfold within the confines of the online world, but with effects that can be far too palpable. Children who appear in images in potentially embarrassing poses or situations – without necessarily posting it online themselves – can become targets for cyberbullies at school and around the world. Being the subject of public mockery can be devastating — not only for the target’s online persona.
In fact, selfies can haunt a person years after they were posted and when their subjects are ready to fend for themselves. The internet doesn’t forget and, if worst comes to worst, an ill-considered selfie can stand in the way of a person’s admission to college, application for a scholarship, or landing a dream job. Many employers openly admit to getting the scoop on their applicants’ online presence, and an unflattering image from a booze-soaked party may not help advance one’s education or career.
So, what are some easy ways to help instil safe selfie habits in your kids?
The single most important thing is to be involved, although this doesn’t necessarily mean putting your foot down. Instead, explain to your children why privacy matters and help them set up privacy settings safely throughout their social media profiles, and review the settings on a regular basis.
When it comes to selfies, show your children how to go over the images with a fine-toothed comb so they can find the smallest sensitive details that bad actors could use. Perhaps you could even make this a game – who can detect the most clues? Teach them about the risks of the internet and especially of social media sharing, ensuring that they’re aware of the kinds of situations that may put them and others at risk.
Walk the talk
The “Do as I say, not as I do!” admonition is unlikely to work. Let’s face it: Words alone may not bring the desired outcome unless they’re supported by actions. Since children are more likely to do what their elders do rather than what they say, you will need to become a role model.
In other words, if you can’t resist the urge to post portraits of yourself and your family or friends, you cannot expect your children to behave differently. Naturally, the same goes for excessive sharing of personal information on social sites. Lead by example.
Trust but verify
At the end of the day, it’s important to have an understanding of what kids are up to online. There are dedicated and reputable apps that give you some control over children’s devices and their online activities, so that you can help them stay away from trouble. In a nutshell, parental control features can filter and block age-inappropriate content, restrict what kind of information is shared, and keep tabs on kids’ screen time. They can also keep activity logs, giving you an insight into what kind of online content your children have accessed.
At any rate, remember to stay engaged with your kids and keep all lines of communication open. Just like in other areas of life, education and communication are vital to preventing trouble.
To learn more about dangers faced by children online as well as about how not only technology can help, head over to https://saferkidsonline.eset.com.
By Tomas Foltyn, security writer at ESET