Social Networking — or, as it was once called, “making friends” — still happens in class, in the cafeteria, and at parties. But now kids can also do it online with sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and more. Here are some safety tips for helping your teen navigate these sites and other sites on the internet:
Heading Off Trouble
- Learn everything you can about the Internet. Ask your teen to show you what they like online. 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.
- 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 (Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, etc.), how much time can be spent online, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 much to combine clues to figure out who your teen is and where they can be found. Screen names should not be provocative.
- 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.
- 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.
- Keep the computer in a family room, kitchen, or living room, not in your teen's bedroom.
- Keep your computer's router in your room and disconnect it at night to discourage late-night Internet usage.
- Check the history of sites visited on your Internet browser, but don't be surprised if you find nothing incriminating.
- Check out blocking, filtering, and ratings applications
- 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.
In the Fray
- Don't believe everything you read online especially if your teen posts it in their profile on a social networking site.
- Get to know your teen's "online friends," just as you get to know all of their other friends.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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
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