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Think before posting your "bundle of joy" online: 3 tips to keep your child safe from social media predators

It is tempting to document every milestone on a medium like Instagram, which conveniently broadcasts our personal news at the click of a button – literally – and simultaneously compiles an archive that cannot be lost or destroyed.

But there are novel risks associated with revealing the specifics of your day-to-day existence, and this is especially pertinent where the safety and privacy of your children is concerned.

Understandably, parents have a tendency to get swept up in the excitement of a new school year, and their social media habits reflects this: back-to-school photos.

But, as security experts are taking pains to caution, even apparently small details such as the insignia on your child’s uniform reveal private and potentially compromising information that might smooth the way for predatory influences.

With these distinct menaces in mind, here are some measures you can adopt to ensure that your safety protocols are appropriate to the digital age in which we now live.

1. Review your privacy settings 

This measure is more or less self-explanatory: if you want to ensure that your children are not exposed to external dangers, make sure that you know and trust the people who have access to your social media. It is entirely likely that they will be able to glean pertinent details about your child’s life from what you post online.

The more somebody knows about your child, the easier it is for them to masquerade as trusted friends, or family members, in environments in which the people responsible for taking care of your child are unlikely to know better.

Refresh your security settings; refrain from geotagging photographs of your children, and err on the side of caution until children are old enough to make reasonable decisions about strangers and self-exposure.  

2. Hold your child’s school accountable

Whether you did so consciously, or automatically – in a state of document-saturated abstraction – it is more likely than not that you gave the school consent to include photographs of your child on their website and social media forums, for marketing purposes.

A representative of The Ridge, a private all-boys preparatory school in Westcliff, indicated that parents sign a waiver to this effect when they register their children. While the school makes an effort to protect the anonymity of its pupils, there are small missteps that, from a conservative standpoint, give away more private information than is strictly desirable.

For instance, tagging parents in photographs of their children enables strangers to identify children’s surnames, and, depending on their security settings, to access their parents’ social media accounts.

Taking these factors into consideration, it is advisable to find out what measures your child’s school is implementing to protect their pupils’ online privacy – if you feel that the school has not adapted itself to the contingencies of modern media, then it is in your best interests to campaign for change.

3. Respect your child’s autonomy

Children should be encouraged to develop a sense of bodily autonomy early on. This will enable them to establish boundaries in situations where they are exposed to the kinds of predators that would otherwise take advantage of their sense of helplessness.

They are more likely to deter a predator if they understand that their bodies are their own, and not necessarily or unconditionally within the purview of adults.

This philosophy should extend to photography. As soon as they are old enough to understand the implications of public exposure, ask your child’s permission to post their likeness online.

This will equip them to defend their rights in situations where they feel uncomfortable, or in the event that the person behind the camera has insidious motives.