Hey parents. Have you had "The Talk" with your teen yet? No, I don't mean that talk. But there's another one that is almost as important these days.
I'm referring to the talk about staying safe with smartphones and social-media activity. Haven't done that yet? If you've been putting it off because you don't know what to cover, I'm here to help.
A recent report from the Pew Research Center indicates that one in four teens now owns a smartphone. While I use the word teen in this column, my advice also extends to preteens. It's never too early to bring up the subject of online safety. As a parent, you no doubt realize that kids do far more texting than talking.
What you might not know is that kids are also doing a lot more mobile messaging through online social platforms, and this often includes sharing their location with friends.
If they're not using location-sharing platforms properly, it can lead to real security and privacy risks. You don't want your kids unwittingly broadcasting their whereabouts and other personal information to strangers.
Many of these tremendously popular social networking apps, such as FourSquare, are free. You may not even know your kids are using them or how they work.
Basically, they allow kids to "check in" to a location and tell friends what they're doing. They may be at a concert, a movie or a cool new coffee shop. As you might expect, businesses love location-sharing apps; owners often offer discounts or reward points to users who check in or achieve certain levels, such as "Mayor."
For obvious reasons, you never want your teen checking in at home or at someone else's home. There are a whole lot of people who do not need to know that information! Similarly, teach your child never to reveal a friend's location without checking with them first. Your teen's friends should extend the same courtesy.
Location-sharing apps usually sync with Facebook and Twitter. Unlike Facebook, which can be tightly restricted to friends and family, the communication taking place on Twitter is public and viewable to everyone. That's just one reason that it's important to start young teenagers with protected Twitter accounts until they demonstrate that they can use the site responsibly.
Kids also need to be smart about sharing pictures. Show them how to go into their smartphone settings and turn off geo-tagging. This pinpoints the exact location, time and date that photos are taken. Remind kids that school uniforms, license plates and landmarks in photos can also give away too much information.
If your child has already been on the Internet and Facebook for a few years, you've probably already had The Talk about cyber-bullying. This issue has accelerated to a new level now, however, with so many kids carrying smartphones.
Encourage your child to bring up anything that has made him feel uncomfortable or scared online, in texts, or elsewhere. Take steps to block bullies at the first sign of trouble.
Help your child review and delete contacts occasionally. Kids fall in and out of friendships like they outgrow clothes. Some former friends may not need to know your child's location.
Remember that technology is a two-edged blade. Location-based services can also give parents peace of mind.
You can insist that your child's use of location-based services be visible to you. It may be a good idea to require them to check in with you at certain times. They'll probably be more consistent in their communication to you if you allow check-ins in addition to just calls or texts.
Become an expert on privacy settings for whatever location-sharing app or service your child is using. Don't worry whether this is too controlling; this is control you need, especially when it comes to who your child's whereabouts. Monitor and review settings regularly. Work together to create an approved list of friends who will be allowed to see location updates.
Glympse is a location-sharing app that is very popular with parents. After you've loaded the free app on your teen's phone, you can track it on a Google map. You can specify that only you see the information and set a time limit for tracking.
If your child is driving to a friend's house 20 minutes away, for instance, you can monitor him on the way and set the timer to stop after 20 minutes. Knowing where your child is and that he's safe is a great comfort. After all, he and his friend are probably even using their smartphones to do homework. Right?