Communicate: The best thing you can do to keep your teen safe online is to establish an open dialog with them. Teens that have a close relationship with their parents are more likely to come forward with problems or concerns. Learn to be interested without being nosy. Talk with them about their internet use.
Find out what their friends are like, what they do for fun, what dramas are going on in their lives, etc. One Church put out a commercial that puts it this way: “when you really listen, love is what they’ll hear.” If they know that the guidelines you set aren’t simply totalitarian laws to keep them away from their friends, you’ll have accomplished a great victory with your kids.
Be extremely careful with personal information: Although Facebook makes it difficult to hide many different identifying characteristics such as your full name, city of residence, and high school, It is hard to conceal the city you live in and the high school you attend, but don’t post your cell phone, home address, or other revealing information. Don’t post personal information about friends, family, or anyone else online either.
Don’t meet strangers: Although you may think, “duh . . .”, a 16 year-old girl who has just met the boy of her dreams on Facebook often does not think of the potential consequences of meeting strangers. Not every other user on Facebook is a convicted sex offender, but neither is everybody online a member of the National Honor Society.
Teenagers should not agree to meet strangers they met online in real life. Unfortunately, too many parents are hopping around on one foot. This is one situation where you need to put that foot down. If it appears your teenager is going to go meet that stranger with or without your permission, you should go as well.
Report concerns: Almost all social media sites have a way to report those who are abusing social networking sites. Teenagers can and should block anybody who is contacting them in an undesirable way. Whether that be someone who is spamming their page with acne-treatment medication or a stranger trying to seduce your child, it is important to report violations. This may not only protect your own child, but your neighbor’s son or daughter as well.
Be educated: There are some subjects where I genuinely feel the less I know, the better. For example, I really don’t care to know what kind of laundry detergent Madonna uses (though I’m sure if you Google it, you could find it out). The internet, however, is not something you should be left in the dark about. Get a Facebook account. Master the interface so you know how to interact with other users. Learn web etiquette (see my next post!). Find out about new trends. If/When Facebook/Twitter go the way of MySpace, it is almost certain that another social networking site will take its place. If the social networking playground does change, climb aboard and figure out the new site.
Computer in public places: It is not healthy for any teenager to be locked away in their room with a laptop. Putting the computer in the kitchen may increase the risk of getting crumbs in the keyboard, but decrease the chance of your teenager entering the wrong chat room. Filters can help prevent internet users from going to the wrong site, but no filter is infallible. One site reports that most men who become addicted to pornography were first exposed to it as a child. Being in the presence of a lot of people while on the internet drastically reduces the chance your teenager will access porn.
Think before you post:
- Assume everyone can see what your child posts on Facebook. Help them to adopt that position. Yes, privacy controls work wonders on limiting who sees what, but they shouldn’t be depended upon for absolute privacy. You never know who is watching. An MSNBC story entitled, “Twitter gets you fired in 140 characters or less.” While your teenager may want to post a nice long diatribe about his or her new boss, you might show them this story and ask if it’s worth losing the paycheck.
Just like at the school playground, your son or daughter might trip and skin a knee occasionally. No matter how inconsequential the “injury” may seem, lending a listening ear to your children can do a lot to alleviate their troubles.
About the Writer
Derek is a web content editor for My Colleges and Careers. If you are thinking about pursuing a college degree, My Colleges and Careers can help connect you with the online degree program you need to help you land the job you’ve always wanted.
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