Facebook and Foster Care Part II: Social Media and Foster Youths
As a naïve young teen in the early days of online chat rooms, I blindly wandered into the treacherous waters of the internet and neither I nor my parents had any idea of the potential threats I could have encountered. Looking back, I am thankful that I was able to avoid danger, but this experience has made me realize how essential it is for parents to understand the social media our children are using so we can better protect our kids.
As foster parents, we have an even more difficult job. Not only are we trying to protect our kids from the dangers of online contact with unknown predators, we may also need to be able to help them make safe choices that protect them from known unsafe people as well.
On the one hand, social media can be a great connection tool for foster youth who are moved to a new place away from all their friends. On the other hand, it can also be a way that unsafe people can find out about the child’s current location and activities and even try to contact them. Personally, my kids have been too young to have social media accounts yet, but as I think about the future, I know that even if I don’t create a digital footprint for my kids, I cannot prevent them from creating one for themselves.
As much as it may be tempting to want to keep our kids offline, the fact that the internet and even social media have become an integral part of society makes it nearly impossible. Even if it were possible, it would not actually be the best thing to isolate foster children further by preventing them from engaging in appropriate online social interactions.
Foster youth need to have normal experiences for kids their age, and today that means engaging in social media. Like all kids, they need to learn how to make good choices in an increasingly online world and it is our responsibility as foster parents to help them learn how.
Because of my experiences, I know that understanding what your children are doing is the foundation of keeping kids safe online. There are many sites that have general tips for parents about online safety for kids that can help you understand the social media platforms your kids might be using and about privacy settings and other safeguards that can be employed.
For foster youth, it is especially important that they understand and put into practice stringent privacy settings and make sure that they are not automatically posting their location when they use mobile devices. In addition to the potential for contact with unsafe people, foster youth are at a greater risk of identity theft and exploitation.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway has made some great resources including a guide for foster parents. There is also a guide for foster youth that you and/or their social worker can go through with them to help them make informed choices about social media. This is especially helpful since young people aren’t known for thinking before they act and they need to be thoughtful and deliberate about the choices they make online.
In the end, we cannot control what our kids do online, but we can help them understand the implications of their online choices and be there for them no matter what happens.