While the COVID-19 pandemic drove us to spend more time on social media and summertime usually gives kids more free time to use screens, this summer may have been different, affording us opportunities to get out, go on vacation, and untether from our screens.  Regardless of how you have spent your summer break, social media remains a great way to stay in touch with people, share news of summer escapades, and find great ideas of how to spend the weeks left before school starts up again.

Despite the changes in your family’s summer schedules, it’s always a good time to practice habits that will keep social media safe and fun by knowing the risks and how to avoid them.

Common Risks

A hacked account:  Sometimes, it is very easy for our account to be hacked because someone has access to our password.  It could have been stolen through a data breach of the social media app or it was not difficult for a hacker to figure it out.  Hackers use social media accounts to perpetrate all kinds of crimes, but in one case, they used a teens account to request money from her friends.

Over-sharing: If you or your child are posting too much personal information into a public feed there could be trouble ahead. Data which might seem innocent to your child could give identity fraudsters some vital information to hijack your accounts, open new online accounts in your name, or send convincing phishing emails to you asking for your bank details. Similarly, information posted publicly on social media could be viewed by prospective employers, law enforcement, credit agencies and even the government. If you’re away on vacation, posting the fact that you are currently away from your home can also open your family up to risk. It’s important for your kids to understand that anyone on the internet can see what you’re posting, and that it could lead to harm.

Third-party apps: Your kids may sign up to third-party apps to connect their social media profiles for a game or personality quiz. This could result in sensitive profile data being shared with outsiders and advertisers. It’s understandable you’d be uncomfortable with your children’s data being sold. Make sure to read the reviews and the terms and conditions for every app that your child would like to download. More information on this topic can be found in our recent blog: Talking to Kids About Free Apps, Advertising, and Their Personal Information.

Malicious spam and scams: As social media users, we tend to trust messages or posts that come from our friends. Cybercriminals know this and are adept at hijacking our friends’ accounts to send us malicious links, phishing scams and more. Make sure your kids understand to take caution before clicking on any links or responding to any messages on social media. More information about Instagram hacking scams can be found on Trend Micro’s blog here: #NoFilter: Exposing the Tactics of Instagram Account Hackers.

Untrustworthy information or people: It is getting increasingly harder to tell who and what we can trust online, so make sure to teach your children to be mindful as they scroll through feeds that they’re not hastily liking and sharing things that haven’t been double-checked. Children should always take the time to verify things that they are liking and sharing online.

Good social media safety habits

Now that you know some of the biggest risks with social media, here are 10 things you can do to avoid them and keep social media a place that is fun and safe for all:

  1. Practice good password skills: Use a strong password and change it often.  Encourage your kids to come up with a strong password by using an easy to remember sentence, but only using the first letter of each word in the sentence as their password.  Throw in a special character or two, to make it even harder for a hacker to crack. Change passwords often, and consider using a password manager, such as this free option from Trend Micro, if it gets tough to remember too many passwords.
  2. Use 2-factor authentication (2FA): Most social media apps provide this option under their security settings.  When you turn on 2FA, you will receive a special code as a text message or email that you will need to enter after you enter your password.  If someone gets a hold of your password, they won’t be able to get into your account if you have 2FA turned on as they would also need to have your phone (to receive the code by text) or access to your email account (to receive the code by email) as well.  Always use this setting and encourage your kids to turn it on as well.
  3. Use and change privacy settings: This will help to limit the amount of personal information you share publicly. Remind your kids to check their privacy settings on their social media accounts and limit what they are sharing or who they’re connected to.  Check these settings regularly as they often change.
  4. Report or Block users: Report, block, unfollow or mute users on social media who are posting inappropriate content, spreading hate, or treating you or your kids in harmful ways.  Social media companies get lots of these reports but tend to prioritize the ones that get the most reports so it’s important to encourage kids and their friends to take action when someone is behaving badly.
  5. Keep apps updated: As with all software, it is important to keep social media apps up to date to ensure you are secure from any newfound threats or vulnerabilities. Make sure to set your children’s phone settings to install updates automatically.
  6. Do a check-up: See if your email, password or phone number has been leaked by hackers.  Free tools such as the Trend Micro Check browser plug in or Trend Micro’s ID Security App allow you to see if they have been leaked on the internet.  If they have, make sure you change the password to any site that leaked your personal information, or cancel your account to that site if you haven’t used it in a while.
  7. Install security software: All devices should be protected with advanced anti-malware from a proven industry expert. Security software can block malicious links and other social media threats before your kids even see them.
  8. Teach and practice media literacy skills: It can be difficult these days to discern who and what we can trust online. Teaching our children digital and media literacy skills – the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication – can help them determine how they should treat the information they see online. Practicing good media literacy skills means pausing before reacting or replying and asking questions.  A Parents’ Guide to Media Literacy developed in partnership with the National Association for Media Literacy Education is a good way to practice this critical life skill with your kids.
  9. Consider parental controls: Parental control tools allow you to filter the content and programs your kids can access on their mobile device and at home, as well as set time limits on internet access. For example, Trend Micro Security products offers a parental control feature. As your kids get ready to go back to school, helping them manage screen time will be more important than ever.
  10. Communicate: Finally, while all of these technologies are powerful ways to helps us and our kids stay safe online, nothing is as effective as having open communication. Make sure you are guiding your kids to make good choices about who they are connecting with and what they are doing with social media, and be a good role model for them, too.  Kids often learn a lot about the world based on what they see on social media.  Talk to them about what they are seeing and learning which can be a great barometer of what their social media experiences are like. If something goes wrong, they should know that you are someone they can turn to for help.

As the summer winds down and we begin to prepare for the start of a new academic year, use this time to practice and teach good social media skills and set your kids up for a more enjoyable, successful school year ahead.

For additional tips on social media safety in the workplace, visit Trend Micro’s blog here: https://www.trendmicro.com/en_us/research/21/f/best-practices-for-social-media-security.html.

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is Vice President of Global Consumer Education & Marketing at Trend Micro and Founder of the Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 25+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens.