Safety Report: Kids and Social Media - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Safety Report: Kids and Social Media

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Posts, tweets and likes on social media sites put a permanent record of our lives online. A Pew Research study finds 73 percent of teens between 12 and 17 have one or more social networking profiles.     

In this NBC29 Safety Report, Matt Talhelm shows us how to talk technology with your kids and protect their privacy.

Social media sites and apps keep friends connected constantly. Technology is expanding a child's social network from friends on the playground to potential pals around the globe.

Marty Peterman, a lead IT security analyst at the University of Virginia, is one of the founding members of a group called "Who's Watching Charlottesville" which teaches Internet privacy.     

"When a child is sitting down at a computer, they don't think that their connection to the Internet is actually a connection to untold number of strangers," he stated. "Seemingly innocent information can be used for bad, bad means."

Louisa County Commonwealth's Attorney Rusty McGuire prosecutes people who prey on kids and teens through social media.  He has trained more than 20,000 parents and students statewide on social media safety.    

McGuire showed us how easy it is to find ‘Teresa', a fictional teen.  He started with an email address which leads to a blog survey and then 'Teresa's' social network friends.

McGuire said, "It's not always what you do. It can be what your friends do."

Twenty minutes of online searching tracked 'Teresa' to her home address.

"There are pieces of a puzzle for a predator to put together to complete the puzzle and track you," McGuire said.

McGuire says protecting your child's privacy on social media and smartphone apps starts at home. He recommends allowing Internet use only in common family spaces and locking access on smartphones outside the home.

McGuire said, "If you're not monitoring what your child is doing on the Internet in the privacy of their own room, you're allowing predators into your child's bedroom."

Peterman says parents shouldn't be strangers - 'friend' your kids on Facebook and monitor their social media accounts.

"They should have the credentials of the accounts for their children, and the children should feel comfortable showing what they're posting to the world," he said.

Peterman also recommends parents make a technology contract with kids.

"It's all laid out so the parent understands what his or her responsibility is and the child understands, ‘oh, I have responsibilities as well in using electronic devices,'" Peterman said.

It is also recommended that parents stay on top of new technology and apps that allow you to post photos, pin locations and follow favorites.    Kids and teens probably know more than mom and dad.

Most social media sites and apps have a minimum age of 13 for members to sign up but McGuire says it's not hard for kids to find a way around that.     

For more privacy protection tips, check out the Who's Watching Charlottesville page.

Click here for more information on what parents should know about social networking, from Common Sense Media. 

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