Social networking sites, chat rooms, virtual worlds, and blogs are how teens and tweens socialize online. Kids share pictures, videos, thoughts, and plans with friends, others who share their interests, and sometimes, the world at large.
Socializing online can help kids connect with friends, and even their family members, but it’s important to help your child learn how to navigate these spaces safely. Among the pitfalls that come with online socializing are sharing too much information, or posting pictures, video, or words that can damage a reputation or hurt someone’s feelings. Applying real-world judgment and sense can help minimize those downsides.
What can you do?
Remind your kids that online actions can reverberate.
The words they write and the images they post have consequences offline.
Explain to your kids why it’s a good idea to post only information that they are comfortable with others seeing.
Some of your child’s profile may be seen by a broader audience than you or they are comfortable with, even if privacy settings are on. Encourage your child to think about the language they use online, and to think before posting pictures and videos, or altering photos posted by someone else. Employers, college admissions officers, coaches, teachers, and the police may view your child’s posts.
Remind your kids that once they post information online, they can’t take it back.
Even if they delete the information from a site, they have little control over older versions that may exist on other people’s computers and circulate online.
Use privacy settings to restrict who can access and post on your child’s profile.
Some social networking sites, chat rooms, and blogs have strong privacy settings. Talk to your kids about these settings, and your expectations for who should be allowed to view their profile.
Review your child’s friends list.
You may want to limit your children’s online “friends” to people they actually know.
Talk to your teens about avoiding sex talk online.
Research shows that teens who don’t talk about sex with strangers online are less likely to come in contact with predators. In fact, researchers have found that predators usually don’t pose as children or teens, and most teens who are contacted by adults they don’t know find it creepy. Teens should not hesitate to ignore or block them.
Know what your kids are doing.
Get to know the social networking sites your kids use so you know how best to understand their activities. If you’re concerned that your child is engaging in risky online behavior, you may want to search the social sites they use to see what information they’re posting. Are they pretending to be someone else? Try searching by their name, nickname, school, hobbies, grade or community.
Encourage your kids to trust their gut if they have suspicions.
Encourage them to tell you if they feel threatened by someone or uncomfortable because of something online. You can then help them report concerns to the police and to the social networking site. Most of these sites have links for users to report abusive, suspicious, or inappropriate behavior.
Tell your kids not to impersonate someone else.
Let your kids know that it’s wrong to create sites, pages, or posts that seem to come from someone else, like a teacher, a classmate, or someone they made up.
Create a safe screen name.
Encourage your kids to think about the impression that screen names can make. A good screen name won’t reveal much about how old they are, where they live, or their gender. For privacy purposes, your kids’ IM names should not be the same as their email addresses.
Help you kids understand what information should stay private.
Tell them why it’s important to keep some things – about themselves, family members, and friends – to themselves. Information like their Social Security number, street address, phone number, and family financial information – say, bank account or credit card numbers – is private and should stay that way.