Heading Off Trouble
1. Learn everything you can about the Internet. No excuses and no whining that you never even learned how to program the VCR. Ask your teen to show you what’s cool on the Internet. Have them show you great places for teens and fill you in on areas that you might find interesting too. Make this one area where you get to be the student and your teen gets to be the teacher.
2. Talk to your teen about your Internet safety concerns in a positive way and give them the opportunity to make safety resolutions that you can both live with. Discuss what can be posted in their profile on a social networking site (MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, etc.), how much time can be spent online, whether or not chat rooms are permitted, and which websites are permitted and which ones are off limits. Ask your teen to use the privacy settings provided by their social networking site. These settings will allow your teen to restrict who has access to their profile. Tell your teen that you want access to their profile and that you will be looking at their profile on a regular basis. Use a screen name that won’t embarrass your teen.
3. Be open with your teen and encourage them to come to you if they encounter a problem online. If they tell you about someone or something they encountered, your first response should not be to blame them or take away their Internet privileges. Work with them to help avoid problems in the future, and remember that your response will determine whether they confide in you the next time they encounter a problem. An overreaction on your part may also cause them to start surfing the web somewhere else.
4. Go over the NEVERS and ALWAYS. Tell your teen that they should NEVER reveal personal information (name, address, phone number, email address, school name, after-school job, and where they hang out) on their profile or to a stranger. If they want to meet someone face to face, they should ALWAYS tell you first, they should ALWAYS bring along a trusted adult, and they should ALWAYS meet in a public place. NEVER open emails from unknown senders and NEVER share their photo with strangers – shared photos make it easier for sexual predators to find a teen. NEVER post provocative photos.
5. Make sure your teen’s screen name doesn’t say too much about them. Even if your teen thinks their screen name makes them anonymous, it may not take a genius to combine clues to figure out who your teen is and where they can be found. Screen names should not be provocative.
6. Warn your teen that people may not be what they seem to be. That cute-sounding 16-year-old teen may actually be a 36-year-old sexual predator.
7. Remind your teen that once they post information online, they can’t take it back. Even if they delete the information from a site, older versions exist on other people’s computers.
Think Twice – Is It Worth Risking Your Relationship?
1. Keep the computer in a family room, kitchen, or living room, not in your teen's bedroom.
2. Keep your computer’s router in your room and disconnect it at night to discourage late-night Internet usage.
3. Check the history of sites visited on your Internet browser, but don’t be surprised if you find nothing incriminating.
4. Check out blocking, filtering, and ratings applications…
There are now services that rate web sites for content, as well as filtering programs and browsers that empower parents to block the types of sites they consider to be inappropriate. These programs work in different ways. Some block sites known to contain objectionable material. Some prevent users from entering certain types of information such as their name and address. Other programs can keep your teen away from chat rooms or restrict their ability to send or read email.
Whether or not it is appropriate to use one or more of these programs is a personal decision. If you do use such a program, you’ll probably need to explain to your teen why you feel it is necessary. You should also be careful to choose a program with criteria that reflects your family’s values. Be sure to configure it so that it doesn’t block sites that you want your teen to be able to visit.
“By embracing values over filters, we are expressing trust in our children, that they will decide wisely when the opportunity for misjudgment presents itself. By stressing values over filters, we send the clearest message to our children: As is true of the real world, you can go anywhere you wish, and it is ultimately up to you to decide what is right and wrong and face the consequences of your judgment. This, over time, would help enforce personal accountability and a permanent sense of responsibility and self-respect. Nowhere in this process can we turn to cold, impersonal, valueless technology and expect that to help define the moral element of our global civilization.”
– Robert J. Tiess
In the Fray
1. Ask to see your teen’s profile (for the first time)… tomorrow. This gives them a chance to remove everything that isn't appropriate or safe, instead of being a “gotcha” moment. Think of it as a loud announcement before walking downstairs to a teen party you're hosting.
2. Don't believe everything you read online – especially if your teen posts it in their profile on a social networking site.
3. Get to know your teen’s “online friends,” just as you get to know all of their other friends.
4. Notice your teen’s behavior when you come into the room. Do they hide the screen? Does the screen always seem to change just as you enter the room? Consider ahead of time how you’ll react if you see these things.
5. Show your teen how to Google their name, and tell them to Google it from time to time to make sure their profile or information is not popping up in inappropriate places. Tell your teen that you’ll also be doing the same thing. Even if your teen is careful about not divulging too much information, you may find their contact information innocently listed on a friend’s site. Ask your teen to have the friend remove the information.
6. Show your teen how to set up Google Alerts for their contact information. When any of the searched items are found online, your teen will be notified via email from Google. To set up these alerts go to www.google.com/alerts. Tell your teen that you’ll also be setting up alerts.
1. If your teen starts receiving phone calls from strangers, or places calls to people you don’t know, get to the bottom of it immediately. The same holds true if your teen receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don't know.
2. Contact the police if your teen has been sexually solicited or has received sexually explicit images from an adult.
“The single greatest risk our children face in connection with the Internet is being denied access. We have solutions for every other risk. That bears repeating, over and over, especially when we hear about Internet sexual predators, hate, sex and violence online. But our children need the Internet for their education, careers and their future.”
– Parry Aftab, Executive Director, WiredSafety.org
Recommended Websites for Parents
New Media Literacies
Create, Circulate, Connect, Collaborate
The National Institute on Media and the Family
Building healthy families through the wise use of media
The Platform Shoes Forum
Online Learning Networks for Youth
If you're interested in learning about research organizations that are working on understanding teens' use of new media, here are two resources we rely on:
The Henry K. Kaiser Family Foundation
The Pew Internet & American Life Project