Sometimes as a parent you have to put on the war paint and do a little extra recon online. After all, isn’t it only fair that if your child breaks the ground rules for using Twitter (which is that he must keep his account private) that you make sure that unlocked account is being used wisely?
If this scenario resonates, you will appreciate a little tool I’ve come to appreciate. It’s called Twitter lists and it’s a feature that can be a parent’s best friend. Twitter lists allow you to make lists (folders) of certain users that you want to follow apart from your full twitter feed. The cool thing is you can create a list to be public or locked to private, which allows you to build a list without other accounts knowing they are on it. You can then reference that single list feed and read it easily. You can even put a Twitter user on a list without following them, which comes in handy since many teens consider it “creepy” when parents (theirs and others) follow them online.
Here’s the issue: Kids want a lot of followers on Twitter because lots of followers equal lots of popularity. They aspire to be “Twitter Famous,” “Instagram Famous,” and so on. Yes, those invisible, exclusive hallways of high school have migrated to the digital world where the age-old pecking order is alive and well.
When you make your Twitter account private (as we advocate for teens), it requires that anyone who wants to follow you ask your permission and be approved. From a safety perspective, if your kids are on Twitter, you want them to lock their accounts and only allow followers they know to interact with them. Yes, many Twitter accounts are X rated.
This safety ground rule for Twitter is a hassle for kids and seen as an obstacle to gaining followers. So they often unlock their Twitter accounts.
A private Twitter list will allow you to easily monitor conversations, get to know your kids’ friends, and most important, will help you spot any kind of predatory, sexual, or bullying behavior in your kids’ circle.
So here’s how to make a private Twitter list:
- Open a Twitter account at Twitter.com if you don’t have one.
- Under the ME view (home view) on your personal Twitter screen you will see an option on the right of your middle navigation called MORE. Click it and a drop-down called LISTS will appear.
- Once in the LIST view, you will see a CREATE NEW LIST button to the right, click it and a pop up box will appear.
- Name your list. Write yourself a note in the description box. Then click the PRIVATE button and SAVE. Once your list is made, you will see a small pad lock icon next to your list. Others will neither be able to see that the list nor will they know they are on it.
- To locate your child’s account: Go to the search box in the upper right corner and type in his name. If you don’t know their particular Twitter “handle” just ask him or open her phone’s Twitter icon, which they usually don’t log out of. (Remember: You are the parent and you pay for the phone, it’s okay to ask these things).
- To add accounts to your locked list: Go to your child’s account from your account and do click her TWEETS button to see who she’s talking to the most. Go to each of those accounts and under the gear icon on their profile page click the drop down menu, ADD OR REMOVE FROM LISTS. Put them on your locked list.
- Another way to build your locked list: Go through your child’s FOLLOWERS list and find his friends you recognize or any “followers” you want to watch more closely and put them on your list.
- To access your list daily: Go to the MORE button and click LISTS. You will be able to bring up the your list and easily scroll through your child’s Twitter conversations as well as his friends.
An important reminder: Let your child know you are using Twitter so he’s not surprised, and doesn’t feel ambushed, when and if you have to call him out on anything. If you begin to see
patterns in your child’s conversations that alarm you, address it promptly so that conversation (not lecturing) becomes the norm in your home.
The goal in building a Twitter list isn’t paranoia and trying to protect kids at every digital turn—which I think we’ve all learned is quite impossible. The goal in parenting digital kids is preparation and equipping them to think and thrive in the online world. Young minds do not know what they do not know—no matter how passionately they make the case for their exceptional wisdom. When you see a behavior, an interaction, or a red flag in your child’s Twitter feed it simply opens the door to an important family conversation regarding digital risk and responsibility.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes.