Although there are many benefits to social networking sites, there are some very real dangers. Teens and tweens can share too much information or post pictures, videos, or comments that could damage reputations or hurt someone’s feelings. Teens also have access to unhealthy groups, pornography, and strangers through these sites. Social sites can also amplify, perpetuate, and widely distribute real-life problems or conflicts at an incredibly rapid rate, so it’s vitally important that parents help their children learn how to navigate these spaces safely.
Familiarize yourself with social networking sites. Before allowing your child to set up a social networking site, set up your own profile. Become familiar with the online culture of the site, the privacy settings and the interactive features available. If you do allow your kids to have a social networking profile, set up the page together and make sure you are online “friends” with your teen.
Talk with your kids about what appropriate behavior looks like online, and help them to think before they post.
Remind your kids that there are no take-backs online. Once something is posted or sent online, it is very difficult to regain control of that content. Any image can be copied, forwarded, altered, or shared in the virtual world.
Know what your kids are doing and with whom they are communicating. We recommend that your children only be connected online withpeople they know and trust in the physical world. Review your child’s “friend” list and ask them how they know the individuals they are connected with.
Use privacy settings to restrict who can access and post on your child’s profile. We recommend using a strict setting such that only your kid’s online friends have access to the information, photos, and videos on their social networking page.
Talk to your teen about avoiding talk about sex online. Teens are seeking love, attention, and affirmation, and chances are good that there is an online peer, stranger, or even a predator willing to give them the attention their hormones crave. Understand that in our sexualized culture, many teens feel pressure to post and send provocative images, texts, comments, and videos. Help them to know to come to you if they are ever contacted by a stranger or someone who makes them uncomfortable online, and consider blocking any individual who attempts to connect with your child that they don’t know in the physical world.
Tell your kids not to impersonate, exclude or attack another individual online. Using technology to be cruel to one another will not only hurt feelings but could also place your child at legal risk.
Consider monitoring your child’s social networking activity. Whether as an online “friend” through the site or by having access to your child’s online sites and passwords, keeping up-to-speed with your kid’s online activities is very important. Consider also using monitoring software (like SafeEyes www.internetsafety.com/xxxchurch), which can help you stay informed about any risky behaviors or tricky situations they may encounter online.
Don’t overreact. If something negative does happen, take a few deep breaths and try to remain calm. You want to keep the conversation going and help your child think critically about their online actions. You want to make sure they know you are a safe place to come if something gets out of hand or if they run into trouble online.
Teach your child to:
- Be honest about their age
- Remember social networking sites are public spaces
- Avoid posting anything that could embarrass them or expose them to danger
- Check comments, posts, messages, and tags regularly
- Avoid inappropriate content and behavior
- Use privacy settings
- Think before they post