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When I was in elementary school, adults always warned us to not talk to strangers. “Stranger Danger!” was the phrase they drilled into our heads. They painted the picture of weird looking men in creepy vans offering us candy, only to put a black hood over our heads and throw us in the van. While the proverbial creepy van is still a danger, there’s a new creepy van in town – social media. From New York to California, social media is the new candy lure.

In my role here at Open Bible, I am immersed in social media. I currently hold an administrative role in more than 15 Facebook pages and several groups for various Open Bible ministries. I have long advocated for the use of technology to spread the Gospel and the story of our organization. On the flip side, any activity or behavior can have dangers associated with it. As a grown man, I’m not too concerned about my safety as it pertains to how I use social media, but alas, I’m a father as well. As I see my daughter grow, I see how full of life she is and how excited she is to discover even the simplest of things. She’ll be two years old soon, and I can’t wait to see the ways she’ll change the world. The realities of the world we live in, fallen in sin, force me to acknowledge and start planning now for her eventual involvement using the media of the day – whatever that will be.

Personally, I firmly believe that we should not live in fear. Fear is a parasite. It will control your whole life, if you let it. So in our everyday lives, we do our best in our household to refuse to make decisions based in fear. Instead, we do our best to understand dangers, do what we can to avoid them, and trust in the Lord to keep us safe in case of the unavoidable.

My goal in writing this is not to instill fear, but rather educate parents that may not know the dangers of social media. It can also serve as a reminder that social media is always changing. Just because you’ve had a talk with your kids about social media, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk with them again.

Recently, some great videos have been published on YouTube showing different setups involving kids using social media to meet new people. It is interesting to see the inside scoop, how the kids willingly talk with someone whom they think is a person their own age of the opposite sex. In reality it is a 20-something-year-old man that hosts the set-ups.

Danger of Social Media: Girls Edition

Powerful stuff, huh?

“We already lost your mother, what would I do if something happened to you!?”

The danger isn’t just for girls, boys are fair game too.

Danger of Social Media: Boys Edition

The National Crime Prevention Council (yes, McGruff, the Crime Dog) has compiled a very helpful article for parents regarding social media safety. Here are some helpful topics it addresses :

  • Familiarizing Yourself With the Basic Terminology That is Used on Most Social Networking Sites
  • The Four Major Dangers of Using Social Networking websites
  • Teaching Your Teen Three Simple Steps To Increase Safety

Internet Safety Statistics:

smartphone-569076_640There are some other eye-opening statistics from InternetSafety101.org

  • In half of all sex crimes against a minor involving a social networking site, the social networking site was used to initiate the relationship (Journal of Adolescent Health 47, 2010)
  • Cases involving social networking sites (SNS) were more likely to result in a face-to-face meeting. This was true of 81% of SNS-involved cases and true of 55% of non-SNS cases (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2010)
  • In 26% of online sex crimes against minors, offenders disseminated information and/or pictures of the victim through the victim’s personal social networking site (Journal of Adolescent Health 47, 2010)
  • 33% of of all Internet-initiated sex crimes involved social networking sites (Journal of Adolescent Health 47, 2010)

Advice from Facebook Parent Friends:

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Since I’m a newbie at this parenting thing, I took to social media to see how my friends of ‘tweens and teens approach these conversations with their kids. You can read their comments here. Some common themes came up in this thread that I found helpful:

  1. Parents should always have the passwords for their kids devices and online accounts. Punishment may ensue if passwords are changed.
  2. Constant conversation is key. Discuss news stories as they arise to make sure kids are aware of the dangers.
  3. Many social media sites do not allow accounts by anyone under the age of 13. These parents seemed to be in unity that this was a good idea.
  4. My friend Jantina made a very good point: Most kids will have an email account as early as third grade, and that is all that is needed to open, for instance, an Instagram account.

Nate’s Advice:

  1. In the conversation I had on Facebook, I really like the idea that a few of them had in syncing their kids’ phones to their own. There are ways to get every text message your kids send, especially if you have an iPhone. Consider this as a way to monitor the friends they are talking to. Since I can’t list all the ways for every phone, the best idea is to visit the Apple store or your cell phone provider for the answers. I also found this handy app.
  2. Most social media accounts have privacy settings. Use these to your advantage and check them every few weeks. Seventy-two percent of teens have a social networking profile and nearly half (47 percent) have a public profile viewable by anyone.
  3. Get all passwords. I would make this a prerequisite to giving them permission to have any social media accounts. I would also schedule checks every few weeks to make sure passwords aren’t changed. I actually do this myself. As a form of accountability, I give my wife all my passwords for email and social media accounts, and I’ve programmed my phone to read her thumbprint to grant her immediate access. If I have to change a password, I tell her the updated password. She never asked me to do this; I took the initiative.
  4. In the words or President Reagan, “Trust, but verify.” Like any other privilege your kids achieve, they should slowly earn your trust. Don’t feel like you have to give them everything at once. Start with one social media account, and then another if they’ve earned it.
  5. Consider allowing your child to have only one account per social media property (for instance, one account for Facebook, one for Twitter, one for Snap Chat, etc). There really isn’t a reason to have more than one. Taking this a little further, allow only a certain number of accounts total. For instance, let’s say they can have three total social media accounts, which means they’ll have to choose between Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
  6. I will echo one of the points from my friends because I feel like it is the most important. Constant conversation is key! This should be a given, but it can be easy to glaze over. To assist in this point, consider setting some screen time boundaries to help facilitate conversations when the screens are off limits.

But Most Important…

Trust the Lord. Pray daily for your children. Pray that God would not only protect them, but they would be a light to their friends. It is not our job as parents to keep them in a bubble so they never encounter the world. Instead, it is our job to prepare them for the world so they can influence the people around them for Christ. Part of preparing them is being wise in how we handle social media. The above tips and resources can help you decide what’s best for your children, and might even help you too!

About The Author

Nate Beaird
Digital Media Manager

Nate Beaird is the digital media manager for Open Bible Churches. He has spent the past 15 years teaching churches how to leverage technology and design and to learn to view their church from a visitor’s perspective. Nate usually writes about technology and social media, but occasionally wanders out of his lane to add perspective in different areas of church life. Nate has training in graphic design and video editing and is self taught in website and social media engagement. As a break from all things digital, Nate enjoys woodworking and spending time with his family. He and his wife, Niki, have two young children.