It's 7:30 p.m. Do you know where your kids are?
You might want to check to see if they are online. And while you are there, take a look at what they are doing. Because according to a recent survey, tweens, those ages 10 to 12, and teens are spending a lot of time unsupervised on social media, and parents are pretty clueless about it.
According to the study of 1,173 young people ages 10 to 23 and 1,301 parents by online security company McAfee, 82 percent of tweens think social media is safe or somewhat safe, and 79 percent of parents agree, but nearly 80 percent admitted they don't have the time or energy to keep up with the child's online habits.
The preteen set is worth a closer look for this column because this age group is technically too young to open a social media account, at least according to the companies that administer them. Yet most have at least one account and many are using it without much supervision from parents.
And if 80 percent of parents do not have the time, they may be unaware of such activities as beauty pageants on Instagram. The Washington Post reported about this in April, where children are judged on their looks based on the number of likes their photo receives. If you really want to be shocked, do a search on Instagram for such hashtags as #rateme or #beautycontest or #amipretty and you will see photos of children seeking approval from their peers, explaining to anyone viewing the public photo that the number of likes their photo receives determines whether they are pretty and worthwhile.
Then there's Snapchat, that other hot social network for tweens and teens. The company claims more than 30 million photo and video messages a day are processed, and it's no wonder why. Kids love it because the premise is simple. Snapchat a photo, decide how long the photo can be accessed by the recipient – anywhere from one second to 10 seconds – and once it's viewed, it's gone forever.
Unfortunately, that's not true. Snapchat allows screenshots of messages, and although the sender will be notified if a screen shot is taken, there are ways around this. Google "how to take snapchat screenshots without someone knowing" and you'll understand just how easy it is. Also, security experts claim to be able to recover deleted messages in just a few hours. Screenshots last forever, and if you look around you may even see some reposted.
Because users are lulled into a false sense of security that the maximum amount of time any one person will see a photo, they tend to be more bold in what they send. "Snapchat sexting" is a very popular search phrase, and users are happy to share their screennames out in the open for all to see.
And if all that isn't enough, here's one more sobering statistic. Facebook, the most popular social network in the world, specifically states that users must be at least 13 years old to have an account, yet 85 percent of tweens in the survey admit to having an account and a similar number say they use it every day. Recent statistics indicate that the number of Facebook users younger than 13 is well into the millions.
So what can parents do to make sure their kids are safe? Here are a few tips:
•Talk to your kids about their online habits. 80 percent of respondents may not have time for full monitoring, but if you know where they are and what they're doing you can give them a little more room to explore. Even if you think you don't have time, you do. And you should.
•Make sure your kids know their options for privacy settings. Your kids are tech savvy, and they might look at you funny if you try to explain computers to them, but you'll look smart if you say "I'd like to address privacy settings on Instagram and make sure you know that photos don't always disappear when you Snapchat them." If nothing else, you'll scare them once they find out you know about Snapchat.
•Set groundrules for what you'll allow your kids to share online. This survey specifically mentions people who didn't think posting a full mailing address was a bad thing. And I've seen several people – adults even – post full-on high resolution photos of their driver's license or credit cards.
•Share this story about Instagram beauty contests with your kids. Whether you print it out or share it via email, it's something every child should read so they know the dangers of such activity.
They may hate it, and you may not have time for it, but corny or not you and your kids need to be online together.
What questions do you have about social media? Tweet them to @scottkleinberg or @amyguth. We might select yours for use in a future column.