by Rachelle Tannenbaum
MySpace. Facebook. We hear about these all the time, but what are they? How can you, as a parent, encourage your child to use such sites safely? In this issue of the ezine, we will focus on social networking safety.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, you may be interested in our courses Guiding Kids On the Internet (FON 381) and Parenting the Middle School Child (FON 369). Details about this and all our classes may be found on our courses page. Alternatively, you can bring us to your neighborhood and have us offer courses or workshops at your school, church, or organization. Contact us today for more details!
SOCIAL NETWORKING SAFETY
by Rachelle Tannenbaum
What is a social networking site?
A social networking site is any Web site, such as Facebook or MySpace, where users can set up profiles and post information about themselves, their hobbies, and their activities. Users can also post pictures and videos, leave comments for each other, and communicate in numerous other ways. On these sites, anyone can become “friends” with anyone else—whether they actually know each other or not. “Becoming friends” is often as simple as a mouse click. This can be a way to meet others with common interests, but it can also open the door for abuses.
There are several types of risks associated with using this type of Web site, and with other means of electronic communication (such as texting):
Reputations can be easily damaged. People may post inappropriate photos or reveal damaging information without thinking about the eventual ramifications.
They can be used as a forum for bullying. Because of the speed with which rumors can be spread, and because of the wide audience such rumors can reach, this bullying can be every bit as damaging (if not more) than in-person bullying.
Children and teenagers (or adults, for that matter) can easily become prey for con artists or sexual predators. Such predators can gain a teen’s trust (by pretending to be teenagers themselves, or pretending to have common interests) and then convince the teen to lend money, meet for sex, etc. They can also glean information which may aid them in stealing your identity.
Sexting (sending nude photos, often via text message) can lead to charges of possessing, producing, or distributing child pornography.
Some of these risks are beyond the scope of this article. As a parent, you will need to educate yourself further; the links at the end of the article will help with that. But in the meantime, forewarned is forearmed.
Talk to your kids about privacy
Because of the potential risks, it is critical that you talk to your kids now, before any problems arise. Ask them which sites they use, and what they share. Point out that if they are embarrassed to show YOU what’s on their sites, then it’s probably inappropriate. If you look at your kids’ sites, they might perceive this as the equivalent of reading their diaries; the difference, of course, is that a diary isn’t easily read or copied by others. The burden is on you, the parent, to make sure they are aware of the potential issues involved.
- Make sure your kids set up their privacy settings appropriately. Sites such as Facebook allow users to control which information can be seen by the general public, and which can only be seen by “friends.” The issue here isn’t just embarrassing photos—it’s also a question of hiding information such as birthdays and hometowns, information which might be helpful to a sexual predator or an identity thief. Look over profiles to make sure they aren’t revealing more than your child intended:
Usernames, e-mail addresses, or profiles may include someone’s name, age, birthday, school, or hometown. Krista2008 is probably a female and high school or college senior, while Eric0614 is male and was probably born on June 14.
Pictures may contain details that reveal personal information. Street signs, landmarks, or license plate numbers might appear in the background, or the logo on a sports uniform might reveal where someone goes to school.
Be careful about whom you “friend.” It’s best to only “friend” people whom you know in real life.
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