If your love of social media is as strong as your love of travel, then you've no doubt discovered the delicious by-product of combining these two passions: bragging on social media about your trip during your trip.
I’ve been quite guilty of this while on the road with my family or traveling solo, sharing one real-time photo after another. But when I consider that my future teens (and yours) will soon enough find themselves traveling as unaccompanied minors, it’s clear what my first piece of safety advice has to be: Do as I say and not as I do.
Or, as SafetyWeb more succinctly puts it, stop oversharing. The website, which among its services can track your child’s “digital footprint” and provide details about what your kids are posting and where, observes that traveling teens who overshare details about their whereabouts risk “getting unwanted attention from potential predators or strangers.”
The site adds that “your teenager may want to share their fun plans with friends and family, but the rest of the world doesn't need to find out their every step from sites like Facebook Places or Foursquare. Encourage them to adjust their privacy settings so they aren't revealing too much personal information and locations.” And with social networking sites revising their privacy policies every fifteen minutes, or so it seems, we really can’t be too careful.
A simple way to help your traveling teen gauge the difference between sharing and oversharing, SafetyWeb says, is chatting with your child ahead of time “about what's appropriate and what they should probably avoid capturing on camera.”
Further, if your kids are going to shoot photos as they travel, encourage them to routinely email snapshots directly to you during their trip, notes the website, so “you can follow along with their plans as they go.” Also, says SafetyWeb, if your teen is traveling overseas, not only is a cell phone a must, but “make sure they know beforehand how to dial out. You don't want them in an emergency situation trying to figure out how to get help.”
Speaking of cell phones, what about those nifty apps that permit us to geo-locate our children through their phones? There are a ton of tracking apps out there, says personal security and identity theft expert Robert Siciliano. Some of those apps, like Find My iPhone and Google Latitude, are free track-on-a-map apps, while there “are also another dozen tracking apps that are designed to ‘ensure personal security’ by having a personal alarm, tracking and alerting law enforcement and family to the person’s location,” he says. While such apps are handy, Siciliano suggests that they can provide “a false sense of security,” especially if your child’s phone is lost or stolen.
A better safety strategy, Siciliano says, is reinforcing with your offspring the importance of “being sensible and using common sense [as] opposed to being stupid and reckless, along with knowing how to manage your online reputation so you aren't posting lifelong regret online.”
In addition to communicating common-sense advice to your kids, Siciliano recommends for the young solo traveler “full-on self defense utilizing adrenal stress training, [which] should be fundamental for any kid leaving the house on their own for five minutes.”
On the latter point I couldn’t agree more – not just about getting your kids self defense training, but also with the idea that it doesn’t matter if your child is going around the world for five weeks or around the corner for five minutes: Both of these “trips” harbor potential risks to their safety. The tricky part, of course, is scaring our kids into taking these risks seriously without undermining their independence and love of travel. If you’re like me, you’re struggling every day to find that balance, but really, what fun would parenting be if it were easy?
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