Social networking: Safeguarding teens

Today, more than ever, young people are spending time in online social networks. Explore advice for parents on keeping their kids safe online.

Youth today are as likely to hang out with their friends online as they are in person. According to a survey by Pew Internet, 95 percent of teens age 12 to 17 are online – and 80 percent of those teens use social networking sites. Some parents consider themselves to be tech-savvy enough to ensure their child’s safety; however, many more feel anxious because their children know more about the Internet than they do. This article will explore some tips for parents on understanding social networking websites to be better prepared to keep their children safe.

Social networking can be defined as an online community for people who share interests, activities or a connection of some sort. Social networking allows for grouping and categorizing of these connections. The best way to learn about social networking is to actively participate. Parents will struggle to provide guidance to their child if they have no idea how social networking operates.

Facebook is currently the most popular social networking site; however, Twitter is quickly gaining in popularity with young people. Social networking sites typically encourage individuals to create profiles and share information about themselves. Individuals can generally choose to share much or very little information. Parents should speak to their children about what information they are sharing online and who might have access to it. Facebook and Twitter both allow users to set privacy settings; while this can be a great way of locking down content to only appropriate individuals, when the websites update, so do the privacy settings. Parents should teach their children to regularly check their privacy settings to make sure they are correct.

One of the most important things for parents to teach their children is the idea that anything they share online can be saved, shared with others, altered and reproduced. It becomes part of their digital footprint – and it never goes away. Teenagers’ pre-frontal cortexes aren’t fully formed, which means that they often lack the ability to fully think through the consequences of their actions. They need to know that something they share online could be taken out of context and used to hurt them or others. Parents should understand how their child’s digital footprint stays with them forever. As with teenagers today, many adults experimented with drugs, alcohol and sexual activity; however, the difference now is that the Internet can often serve as a permanent record of the mistakes youth make during this experimentation. A good rule is if a teen wouldn’t choose to share this information with their grandparents or on a bulletin board at school, they shouldn’t post it on the Internet.

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