5 ways kids can stay safe online
5 ways kids can stay safe online

Let's say you're a 12-year-old kid who's standing in line with friends, getting ready to go see a movie. An adult stranger walks up and starts talking to you, asking about your name or where you go to school. A little creepy, right? Hopefully you wouldn't share that kind of personal information.

But as social media safety expert Clay Cranford pointed out to Santa Catalina Lower and Middle School students recently, that's not much different from having strangers follow you on Instagram, where they can learn a lot about you by what you post. You wouldn't engage a stranger in the physical world, but you might in the digital space. "With social media," he said, "our beliefs and behaviors don't match up."

Cranford, author of Parenting in the Digital World, is the nation's leading law enforcement educator on social media and online safety for children. He spoke to students in grades 5-8 on November 8, then gave a presentation to parents later that night as a guest speaker of the Parents Association.

Cranford's presentation to students was all about helping them make smart choices. We may feel less vulnerable online because we're not interacting with people face-to-face, but the actions we take can have real-world consequences, as in cases of cyberbullying. He showed students ways to make their social networks more secure, and focused on the importance of creating a positive digital reputation.

Here is some of the advice he shared with students:

  • Assume any photo you share will be seen by everyone. Even photos that are texted or posted on a private account can easily be taken public. Don't share anything you wouldn't want your mom to see.
  • Only let people you know follow you. Think of social media like your house—if someone comes knocking at the door, who do you let in?
  • Never post mean, rude, or threatening messages. Cranford calls this the Airport Rule: You don't make threats or say inappropriate things in the airport security line, even if you're joking. Treat school and social media like the airport.
  • If you receive a mean message, don't respond. Ask for help from an adult, and block the person from contacting you.
  • Use your social media for good. Celebrate a friend's accomplishments, or raise awareness for a cause you believe in. "Here's the beauty of social media," he said. "You guys are writing your own story. Make it positive."

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