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8 Tips to Protect Your Kids from "Catfishing" Online

catfish prevention, mother protecting teen online

If you're like most parents, you probably didn't learn what "catfishing" means until the news of the Manti Te'o hoax broke and the new MTV documentary-style show Catfish became a hit in early 2013.

For those who still don't know, catfishing means "to pretend to be someone you're not online by posting false information, such as someone else's pictures, on social media sites usually with the intention of getting someone to fall in love with you," according to the Catfish show's website.

Catfishing is the latest Internet safety hazard, so it's important to know how to help protect your family. In addition to these other online safety tips you should know, keep these "catfish prevention tips" in mind:

  • Tell your kids not to "friend" people online who they don't know well — or who they have never met in real life. "People You May Know" is a feature that shows up on users' Facebook pages, trying to connect them with friends of friends (of friends of friends...). Tell your kids not to "friend" unknown people (even if they're cute!), or accept any friend requests from someone they do not hang out with in real life.
  • Set strict privacy control settings on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. Always choose the option where only friends can see your child's photos. Your child's profile picture or other photos online could be picked up and used by a catfish.
  • Close inactive social media accounts. If your child used to be on MySpace or has an Instagram account they never use, close it. Inactive accounts can be a good source of images or names for catfish.
  • Tell your child not to put his photos on Twitter (as a profile pic or in a tweet). Twitter is pretty much a free for all of tweets and retweets — it's much harder to control where your child's "tweetpics" end up.
  • Search for your child's face and name in Google Images. Did you know that you can drag an image into the search box of Google Images and see if/where your photo exists on the web? Do this with your child's photo (a clear one of her face). Also, type her name into Google images. If her picture appears and you're not comfortable with it (i.e., a bikini-clad photo — not just a sports game photo from your local newspaper), look into deleting it at the source.
  • Keep tabs on your child's life, online and off-line. Be friends with your child on Facebook, and check in with him daily in "real life" off-line. Don't hover, but pay attention to new people in his life and who he's spending time with (real time, but also who he is texting, Facebook chatting with, etc.).
  • Make boyfriends/girlfriends meet the parents. It's very common for kids' relationships to start online. If your child is of "dating age" and you know she's in constant contact with a certain someone, ask to be introduced at some point. Even in this new media age, some things just need to happen the old-fashioned way!
  • Watch over your sons — not just daughters. We tend to guard girls more carefully, but anyone can be a victim of a catfish. Manti Te'o can tell you that!
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