Parents and Social Media – What Do Kids Know?

At times, we struggle with talking to the parents of younger kids about the online risks that are out there because they just don’t want to hear it. Of course, any risk that a young child is exposed to is a scary thought for parents, but there is some comfort in thinking that this type of thing couldn’t happen to your family. Many parents think that their child is too young for that thing to be a concern, and put off worrying about it until a later date.

jersey-shore-shrimpYesterday I took a daddy-and-daughter trip to the Jersey Shore with my youngest, who is 7. I took the picture at right while we were having lunch – she is crazy about shrimp.

After taking the pic, I was posting it to Instagram and asked her to pick a filter, which she did. I never mentioned Instagram, or that I was doing anything in particular with the picture.

The following exchange happened later in the day:

Her: “Did you post that picture on Instagram?”

Me: “How did you know it was Instagram?”

Her: “You had me pick the filter. I think that filters are something you use on Instagram.”

Me: “Yes, I did.”

Her: “Let’s check and see how many “likes” it got.”

It’s not like my daughter sees me using that app all the time – I’m not a big Instagram user. I’ve posted a total of 94 pictures on there in the 2+ years that I’ve been a member Where am I going with this? She’s a 7-year-old girl who doesn’t have a cell phone or an Instagram account, for starters, yet she’s already quite familiar with social media. It’s too early for her to have an Instagram account, the age limit is 13.  It’s not too early for me to start talking to her about the risks that come with posting things online, and by the way, she wants an Instagram account.

Parents of elementary school students for the most part are not yet thinking that social media is an issue they need to worry about. Our advice to parents is to start early educating your kids about the risks inherent in online activity and developing a strategy for monitoring what is going on. The idea of “getting likes” is a powerful one, as is the ability to follow a favorite celebrity online (Twitter), creating your own blog (Tumblr) or posting a collection of things you think are cool (Pinterest). How early should parents start in the education process? Before it becomes a problem, certainly. There are three times in a child’s life when parents need to prepare for a different set of behaviors before they happen.

First internet connection – As soon as your son or daughter has unsupervised access to any internet-connected device, including gaming devices, cyberbullies and predators are a risk. In addition to restricting use to age-appropriate websites, games and apps, parents should begin coaching kids how to deal with strangers and negative comments.

First email address – The moment your child sets up her own email address, she will be able to start signing up for websites and social media, whether you know about it or not, and start to develop her own online identity. If you think she doesn’t have her own email address yet, you should ask her.

First cell phone – Smartphones have made the idea of restricting child internet access to a shared computer in a central room of the house an idea that just doesn’t work any more. Almost everything that a youngster can do on a computer can be done on a smartphone, and they will have plenty of access to people who are doing things on their phones to get coaching from when you aren’t around.

My boys are older, and didn’t get their first phone until they were 12 or 13. My daughter won’t be getting one any time soon either, and by the time she does, I’d like to think that she will be well-versed in what the risks are and what good behavior looks like.

Waiting until something is a problem to educate your kids about it is not the right way to go.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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McAfee Releases New Data on Teen and Tween Internet Use

This week, internet security pioneer McAfee released the results of its annual survey on youth internet use titled Tweens, Teens and Technology. The survey details the online experience of 1,033 Australian teens and tweens interviewed last month, but we think that the results are largely representative of the internet experience of young people in most developed countries.

mcafee-intelSome of the highlights are as follows. All data from McAfee.

Underage Facebook use is rising rapidly. Despite the 13-year-old age limit, in 2014:

  • 31% of 8-9 year-olds have a Facebook account
  • 60% of 10-12 year-olds have a Facebook accounts
  • In 2013, only 26% of 8 – 12 year-olds overall reported using Facebook

Cyberbullying is also on the rise:

  • 81% have witnessed cyberbullying of someone online, up from 56% from 2013
  • 39% have been cyberbullied themselves
  • 15% admit to being guilty of cyberbullying
  • For kids who witnessed cyberbullying, 62% reported it to someone (this is a good number relative to similar U.S. statistics, which tend to be under 50%)

Social media is a popularity contest for many:

  • 6% kids post profile photos that are not their own
  • 12% try to appear older via their online identity
  • 50% feel more important or popular when they receive a lot of likes
  • 41% wish they received more likes
  • 22% feel depressed when they don’t receive a lot of likes

Parents struggle to keep up:

  • 49% of teens and tweens say their parents can’t keep up with the technology
  • 70% say their parents only know some of what they do online
  • 52% say they know how to hide their activity from their parents
  • 70% have taken specific steps to hide their activity from parents

Monitoring tween and teen internet activity is a real challenge for parents, as these and other data bear out. In the words of Generation Z author Don Tapscott:

“This is the first time in history kids know more than adults about something really imporant to society — maybe the most important thing.”

Does that sound familiar? According to the McAfee study, 18% of poll respondents admit to meeting someone in real life who they first met online. Thankfully, only a small number of internet strangers are actually predators, but they do exist. The number one online fear according to respondents is cyberbullying, and many parents have no way of knowing whether their kids are victims or bullies.


Regarding #3 in the tips from McAfee above, as a parent you may not have the time or resources to be everywhere online that your child is. With ThirdParent, we aim to solve that challenge by offering a quick and easy guide for you as a parent detailing where your child is active online, and what the risks are. You can contact us today.



Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Is Your Facebook Use Impacting Your Kids?

Hey parents! How much time do you spend on Facebook? Actually, it doesn’t have to be Facebook we’re talking about. How much time do you spend at home in the evenings or on weekends, on your phone, laptop or tablet? While you play Candy Crush or catch up on work emails, someone is watching you – your kids.

kara-zidarIf you’ve read other things we’ve written, you probably know that we are big fans of children and teens using the internet and technology to learn, grow and expand horizons. The same goes for adults, so we’re not saying that you should strictly limit your internet use, either, but moderation and awareness of the situation at hand need to apply to parents as well as kids. Be aware that when you’re online, you are setting an example for those around you. Specifically:

It’s OK to be online – It is okay, but it may not be okay to be online all the time, or at the dinner table, or in bed. Think about whether the rules you set for your children are rules that you are following yourself. And don’t be so engrossed in what you’re dong online that you can’t stop and address a question or issue posed by your child. If you can’t log off on short notice, you can’t expect your kids to either.

Facebook, Pinterest, texting are good things – They are. Having said that, parents of pre teens will be asked by a child at some point if they can have a Facebook or Instagram account of their own. After all, all their friends have them. If you’re an active Facebook user, you need to be prepared to tell your 11-year-old daughter why she can’t have one.

If something online makes you angry/sad/frustrated, that’s a normal reaction – This is a difficult issue since emotional reactions are not easily controlled. If you find yourself reacting demonstrably to what you’re seeing online, you might want to wait until the kids are in bed to wade into forums where those situations are presenting themselves.

It doesn’t matter if there are other people in the room – Obviously, that is not true. If you’re online and your family is around, you need to be partly or mostly “there” for them, like you have proverbial eyes in the back of your head.

A tablet, phone or laptop in the bedroom is a great idea – Studies have show that teens who use a phone or tablet in bed immediately prior to bed time get less sleep, and what sleep they get is lower quality. We are not fans of kids taking their electronics to bed with them, and as a parent if you do this yourself, it is going to be more difficult to prevent your kids from doing it.

We’re not perfect, and we are probably guilty of being online too much during off hours, but we understand that the most effective rules are set by parents who lead by example. We have work to do too.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Middle School Parents and Kids’ Online Activity

Each parent is different, as is each parent’s relationship with his or her child. We trust parents to know what is best for their kids, but understand that since parents almost never have a complete understanding of what kids are doing online, the “what to worry about” question can be a moving target, often driven by alarming news reports or personal experiences.

youtube logoWe had the pleasure this month of speaking with parents at a New Jersey school district, and were somewhat surprised by the narrow focus of the parents’ questions and areas of interest.

Specifically, our talk was titled, “I Have No Idea What My Kids Are Doing Online”, and a show of hands revealed that the audience was 100% middle school parents. While we covered a wide range of topics, what were they interested in, as indicated both by the questions asked and their level of engagement in various topics presented, are as follows, in order:

Who can find my child? – Specifically, parents are interested in guidance around their children putting personally identifying information (PII) online, especially when it leads to children exposing themselves to predator risk. Having guidelines, agreed upon by your children, about how much they share online is critical.

Who knows where my child is right now? – You may know that a child’s phone, some digital cameras and many apps and websites collect and share Geolocation Data, or the exact location of your child when taking a picture or posting to a social media site. Parents are rightfully concerned about this.

YouTube – A very unscientific poll of middle school parents will tell you that YouTube use among middle school students runs at close to 100%. Our kids are no different. Not surprisingly, parents are concerned about guidelines for safe pre teen YouTube use.

Age limits and peer pressure – “My daughter is 10, and all of her friends use Instagram, and THEIR parents are OK with it.” Sound familiar? Your child is your responsibility, and what other parents are doing should not have much bearing on what your guidelines are.

Parents in this forum were not very interested in cyberbullying, protecting personal information from advertisers or age-appropriate apps and websites. Maybe they were already up to speed, or hadn’t encountered problems yet.

If you aren’t sure as a parent what you should be worried about, you can start by talking to your children about what they are currently doing online. It’s a start.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Is YouTube Safe for 12-Year Olds? 11? 10?

YouTubeYouTube, the giant video site owned by Google, is the most popular social network for tweens. Facebook isn’t. According to a recent study by MediaSmarts, YouTube is listed as the favorite website by children in grades 4 – 6 by a wide margin.

The above statistic is a bit misleading, since many younger users don’t really use it as a network. It works very well as a video hosting and viewing platform even if you aren’t actually using it as a network. The difference is that users (including kids) who use it without actually having an account are not permitted to upload videos, or comment on or Like others’ videos. The problem is that many kids like to upload videos, and many more use the comments section. Not sure what you’re dealing with in your house? If your child has ever uploaded a video or commented on one, she has a YouTube account, and is using it whether you know about it or not.

On the question of whether YouTube used under normal circumstances is safe for kids 12 years old and younger, the answer is no. YouTube is a social network, and as such has risks for younger users similar to those found on other social networks, including adult content, predator risk and cyberbullying.

This, however, need not be the end of the discussion.

The age limit for YouTube in the U.S. is 13 (14 in Spain and Korea, 16 in the Netherlands and 13 in all other countries), but there is a way to allow minors under 13 to watch videos on YouTube safely, and without violating the age limit. Here’s what you need to do:

Shared family account – Even if your child has his or her own Gmail account, a prerequisite for having a YouTube account, we recommend that you establish a shared family Gmail account, use that to establish a new YouTube account, and confine child YouTube use to that computer. In that way, you can command the parental safety controls without having to install added software on children’s computers.

There is another reason why a shared family account is important. Google made a change recently such that if your child comments on a YouTube video, other users can send her a message via her Gmail account, even without being her “friend” on any Google property.

Safety Mode – Now that you as the parent control the YouTube account settings and will see all incoming messages, ensuring that your child is not being exposed to age-inappropriate videos is very easy.  Scroll down to the bottom of any YouTube page and click on the Safety button. Change YouTube Safety Mode to “On” and click save (see below), and you are good to go.


Note: even if you have enabled Safe Search in Google, you still need to enable Safety Mode in YouTube.

Shared computer in a common area – Even with Safety Mode enabled, Google/YouTube make no guarantee that their video age ratings are 100% accurate. As such, we don’t recommend young users browse YouTube in their bedroom or other private location. Stick to a shared computer in a central room in your house for the most kid friendly results.

Turn off comments – The final step in making YouTube safe for young users is to hide the comments, and you should. Although it is not as bad as it once was, YouTube comments are home to rampant foul language and cyberbullying, especially in some of the types of videos popular with young users. If you are using Chrome or Firefox (you should be if you are concerned with this), there are free add-ons that are quick and easy to install, and enable YouTube users to hide the comments under all videos.

Incidentally, if you encounter a YouTube user who is under 13 and using the site unsafely, you can report the user to the company. YouTube has a good history of taking down accounts of underage users.

It takes some work, but I you are resigned to the fact that your child is going to watch YouTube videos, or want to allow her to do so, there are steps you can take to make it as safe and wholesome as possible.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Is Facebook Safe for 10, 11 or 12-Year Olds?


quiblyTwo facts about Facebook: (a) Facebook doesn’t enforce its age limit, which is 13 years of age, and (b) many kids under the age of 13 have a Facebook account, whether their parents know about it or not.

A fascinating and nuanced debate broke last year on Quibly, the tech oriented question and answer site for parents, and the issue at hand is still worthy of discussion. In fact, as of last month, new answers were still being posted. The question posed was a simple one, and one easily answered (we think) by most parents who are actively involved in what their children are doing online.

At what age should children have a Facebook account?

We’re not crazy about the question as asked, because the stated age limit notwithstanding, we think that a child’s maturity level is a more important determinant of readiness than his or her age. That being said, the range of answers was surprisingly diverse.

The most popular response, in terms of “Likes”:

OK lets get real! There are millions of kids under 13 on Facebook. Most of them are having a good time online and are safe. A few are bothered by predatory adults and bullying peers – these tend to be vulnerable kids without the benefit of supportive parents.

A child of 10 could benefit from the social interaction and learning that FB offers, so long as he is protected by his parents. So, here’s your 3-point plan:

  1. Make a deal with your under 13 child that you must be his first FB friend. Then you can keep an eye of what he’s doing.
  2. Learn the FB privacy settings together, so he can make his profile visible to FRIENDS ONLY.
  3. Teach him how to check out friend requests and make a deal that he only accepts them when you are BOTH confident that they are safe. Then stand back and watch.

Treat this as a learning journey. Take every incident that arises as an opportunity to discuss with your child and improve his safety strategy.

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 10.54.56 AM
Source: Facebook Terms of Service

If you’re OK with breaking the rules, there is a lot to like in this answer, but it is only sound advice if parents are thoroughly engaged and vigilant. It is safe to assume that a 10-year old user will not recognize a predator as easily as a parent might, or be able to react appropriately to an incident of cyberbullying, especially the first time it happens.

As a parent, allowing your child to be on Facebook means that you are taking responsibility for keeping them safe day in and day out. This also goes for kids 13 – 17, by the way. That is the deal you’re making.

Some more conventional opinions:

I don’t know why any parent would OK rule-breaking… I’m not saying they shouldn’t question and debate rules in life, but flagrantly breaking them with my permission, seems like very mixed parenting messages. Facebook isn’t designed with keeping kids safe in mind – that’s fair enough too, because kids aren’t supposed to be there. There are multiple places that children under 13 can be social online, Facebook isn’t one of them.


A ten year old may be able to socialize online, but he/she will have their whole life to do that. Is it really worth rushing the process?


What bothers me most about these “under-age” kids with Facebook accounts… is the example it sets. It tells the kids that Mom and Dad think its okay to lie about your age AND break the rules.


Kids having problems on Facebook is not RARE its common you just don’t hear about it…but I do. I know many parents are not telling other parents what is happening on Facebook because they are protecting their kids, and also embarrassed that they didn’t know what was going on, and that they let their kid on Facebook under age.

Debates such as this one are important if they only achieve one goal – to get parents thinking about how their children are using, or will use, internet resources in a safe positive manner. Whether or when your child uses Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat should be an active decision on your part. What kind of digital parenting strategy are you using?

You can read the full responses here.


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Canadian Study Reveals Dicey Teen Social Media Statistics

A new study by Canadian firm reveals (again) that almost all kids are online, and many of them are participating in social media at an age that poses risks for them, and should raise some questions for parents who arguably would be serving their kids well by being more involved in their digital lives.

mediasmartsThe fact that older kids – we’re talking about teens here – are very active on social networks including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is not at all surprising.

What may be surprising, and is more problematic, is that a large number of younger users are active on social networks, and at the same time struggle to understand the privacy and safety implications.

Among the key findings for younger kids:

  • Among students in grades 4 – 6, 32% have a Facebook account and 16% have a Twitter account
  • 18% of 4th grade students post to social media at least weekly
  • 28% of 5th grade students post to social media at least weekly
  • 37% of 6th grade students post to social media at least weekly
  • 48% of students have lied about their age in order to join social networks
  • 90% of students don’t “believe” that strangers “should” have access to their social media, but only 50% have used privacy settings to block strangers
  • 68% of students believe that if a social network has a privacy policy, that means “they will not share my personal information with anyone”

This particular report does not focus on two online risks that we see all too often – cyberbullying and predator risk – but the fact that kids are social networking at a young age without a firm grasp on who sees what and how protected they are, or aren’t, highlights that fact that a better education effort is warranted.

The age limit for Facebook and Twitter is 13, so effectively 0% of kids in grades 4 – 6 “should” have an account. The study doesn’t get into what percentage of parents condone underage use, but the fact that kids admit to lying about their age to gain admission as early as 4th grade is a pretty good indication that a lot of parents are either unaware or indifferent.

Interestingly, Mediasmarts, the author of the study, Facebook and the Canadian Federation of Teachers are teaming together in an effort to educate kids on digital citizenship. One can hope that part of their commendable effort focuses on the parents, who really are the first line of defense against unsafe internet activity by teens and pre teens, and should be where kids turn first when they run into online problems.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Your Child’s First Email Address – When and How

As a parent, you have to deal with a lot of uncertainties, not the least of which is your children’s online activity.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 5.25.26 AMWhether your child accesses the internet for the first time on one of your devices, a sibling’s, or the child’s own iPod or other handheld, their first online experience is going to be relatively well controlled – by you. There is a point in time when it gets more complicated; the day that your child can use his own email address while navigating the web.

Having your own email address allows two-way communication, enables access to different sites and networks and creates the beginning of an online identity. It also ushers in potential predator risk, cyberbullying and exposure to inappropriate conduct and content. Be prepared.

You may have already established an email address because a good one was available (, but don’t hand it over until you’ve considered the consequences.

When should you start to evaluate?

To state the obvious, a child shouldn’t have his own email address before being able to read and write proficiently. Unless he understands the words in the “from” and “subject” fields, he’ll just be clinking blindly.

At some point, the decision of when may be made for you. As more school curriculum moves online, and as teachers, coaches and clubs want to communicate with your child directly, he may need an email address earlier than you might think.

Ready to roll? Here’s what to consider

When making the email decision, the child’s age is less important that his maturity level. Assuming that you’re going to give him some usage and safety guidelines (do this!), you need to be sure he understands why those guidelines are important, and what the consequences are of ignoring them.

One hybrid option that we recommend is starting your child off with an email address shared with a parent, or one that the whole family shares. That way, at least one parent will be able to easily see all incoming communications, and review all activity if that is required.

If you think that your child is ready to have and use his own email address, start the process by offering some help in setting it up, and use the opportunity to have an in depth conversation about the responsibility that comes with it.

  • First consider how the name is displayed – if your child’s email address contains a complete real name, you might want to change how that displays when sending email.
  • Who would you willingly give your child’s email address to? Your child need to be on board with that list, act accordingly, and avoid sites that display user email addresses.
  • Talk about what the email address is connected to – for example, if it is a Gmail address, by default it is connected to a Google+ and YouTube account. Opting out of that is almost impossible.
  • This is also a great opportunity to discuss what they can do with it – to sign up for most gaming networks, social media sites and online anything, you need an email address. The flip side of that is that once your child has an email address, that and an internet connection is all he needs to sign up for Facebook or, with your permission or without. Make sure he knows what sites and networks are off limits.

Above all, have an action plan for what to do when your child receives an email from an unknown sender, or one containing a link or attachment that looks suspect. Phishing attacks are a real risk. The younger the child is, the more likely that you want your child to do nothing, and tell you about it.

Once your child has an email address, the options available online increase greatly, as do the risks. And once your child has an email address, it’s tough to take it away. Act accordingly.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Club Penguin Tackles Online Safety, Cyberbullying

Club PenguinDisney’s Club Penguin, the social network and multi player online role-playing game for kids, has long been a safe haven for younger players given their very kid-friendly policies. According to an announcement this week, Club Penguin is about to get even more serious about online safety and fighting cyberbullying.

All my kids have played Club Penguin (our youngest still does), and for as long as I can remember, there was never a doubt about the safety of the experience, even for users 10 and under. From the Club Penguin website:

From live moderators and filtered chat, to an ad-free play environment and special parent tools, we strive to be the safest place on the internet. Here are some online safety tips to share with your child:

– Never give out personal information online. Your real name, age, where you live, phone number or school.
– Never share your password with anyone, except your parents. Someone else might use your password and pretend to be you.
– If someone does or says anything online to make you feel uncomfortable, tell your parent or guardian right away.
– Choose a nickname that doesn’t give away your real name, or location.

Club-Penguin-BlueThe above are great guidelines for any young internet user, on Club Penguin or elsewhere.

In addition to having clear safety guidelines, Club Penguin goes out of its way to allow easy parental monitoring of children’s accounts, and also makes it very easy to report abuse.

If you encounter a mean or rude penguin while playing, you can report them to our moderation team. Click the “M” (Report Player) icon on their player card to report a player. Our moderators will review the report and ban any penguins who have broken the rules.

After reporting the penguin, you can also add them to your Ignore List, by clicking on the “ghost” (Ignore Player) icon on their Player Card. Once they’re on your Ignore List, you will no longer see what that penguin says or does. You could also go to a different room, or switch servers.

Now Disney is going a step further to promote online safety and prevent cyberbullying, both on Club Penguin and across the internet. In a press release, the company stated:

The ‘It Starts with You!’ campaign, developed primarily for tweens and parents of tweens, is Club Penguin’s most ambitious and expansive online safety campaign ever. It will span across multiple platforms including placements on Disney Channel and Disney’s online destinations, integrations in the virtual world of Club Penguin, as well as real-world, direct-to-kid components by working with leading online safety and educational organizations.

Club Penguin will offer resources for parents and children, both online and in schools, with the motto, “Be Cool, Be Heard, Be Safe.” Disney is looking to spread the safety message to its 200 million registered users and beyond. For more information, click here for news, videos and tips from Club Penguin’s Online Safety Center, and stay tuned for more from the leader in kids’ online safety.


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