Parents Meet to Learn How to Protect Teens Online

Jennifer Rudo
Jennifer Rudo (Courtesy of Jennifer Rudo)

The rush as likes and favorites pour in, the crushing low of an ignored post and the shame felt when comparing themselves to the picture-perfect pages of friends are familiar emotions to many of today’s teens.

On June 28, The Macks Center for Jewish Connections and Jewish Community Services held a discussion for parents on keeping kids safe as they navigate the often-treacherous landscape of social media.

Jennifer Rudo, the teen engagement coordinator for JCS, led the discussion on cybersafety. She’s the mother of two young adults who have grown up in today’s era of ever-increasing social media use.

But how many teens use social media? And how closely should parents be watching?

More than 95% of teenagers use social media in the United States, according to Pew Research Center surveys fielded in 2022. The top five platforms used by teens are YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, in order of prevalence.

The same surveys show 38% of teens say that what they see on social media causes them to feel overwhelmed due to the drama, and roughly three in 10 teens say social media makes them feel like their friends are leaving them out of things.

Rudo said this can often be attributed to seeing their friends go places and do things without them and seeing their friends hanging out together when they themselves weren’t invited.

“For them to pull up their phone and to feel that total rejection, it affects your direct worth; you feel like you’re worth less,” Rudo said.

Rudo encouraged parents to educate and guide their young teens by asking that their child and other guests not post photos if the parent knows not everyone can be invited or included.

Social media may pose a danger to more than teens’ mental health. Oversharing can also lead to dangerous situations.

According to Rudo, asking five questions can help keep parents and their children safe on social media: Am I posting sensitive information? Should I share this? What are the privacy settings on my accounts? Is this too good to be true? And am I using a secure Wi-Fi network?

Cyberstalking, the repeated use of electronic communications to harass or frighten someone, is one risk teens can run into. Cyberstalking on its own can be distressing, but in the example shared during the workshop, cyberstalking can quickly progress into in-person stalking.

To combat this, Rudo guided parents and teens to be conscious of the information they’re putting out on social media — intentionally and unintentionally. For example, a soccer photo may seem harmless at first glance, but a public photo like that can give away a child’s name, school and even the park they play at and the time they’re there.

If a parent or their child has become the target of online stalking or harassment, Rudo urged those in that situation to stop responding to the harasser, report the profile and block the contact.

A quick look at most profiles can give someone a person’s date of birth, graduation year and routine.

Parents should also keep tabs on who their children are friends with on social media and whether their account is set to private or not, Rudo said.

While many social media platforms have made strides in profile privacy options since the social media boom of the early 2000s, privacy settings won’t protect your child from accounts posing as people they know.

Rudo suggests parents should verify suspicious profiles to make sure they are who they claim to be. For younger children, this may mean talking to the other child’s parents. For older kids, this may mean having your child call or ask their friend in person if it’s really them.

Social media impersonation is a practice where a cybercriminal creates a fake profile on social media by stealing and using personally identifiable information according to Forbes.

“Personal information is like money,” Rudo said. “Once it’s out there, it has a value. Be selective with what you provide online and to whom. Set yourself up to value yourself and what you share with the right people.”

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