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Social NetworkingSocial Networking

Social networking sites (SNS) such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, and Twitter are popular with teens because they give them

  • An easy way to share their lives with their friends and family
  • The chance to try on different identities and explore new interests
  • A semi-private platform on which to communicate outside of the supervision of adults

With these benefits, however, also come some risks. Teens on SNS may share personal information which leaves them vulnerable to people who want to harm them. They may also share inappropriate or illegal content which endangers future academic or employment opportunities. Understanding the various ways content can be shared can help trusted adults talk to teens about ways to stay safer while using SNS.

SNS Basics

Although not every social networking site has all of these components, many of them add more and more features in an effort to keep users on their sites for longer periods of time. Instead of opening multiple applications, users can rely on one SNS to serve all their communications needs.

  • Blogs – These online journals or diaries are becoming a common part of many SNS.
  • Comment Walls – A popular feature of most SNS that allows users to communicate through comments left on each others’ pages.
  • E-mail – Most SNS have an e-mail feature through which users can communicate privately or with select groups.
  • Friends Lists – These contact lists are usually comprised of people a child knows offline, but also include friends of friends and others they have only met online.
  • Instant Messaging - Some SNS, such as Facebook, have made chat features available to users.
  • Pictures and Videos – Most SNS allow users to post a profile picture. Many also allow users to post photos and videos to an online “album.”
  • Status Updates - Users post these short sentences to let the people on their friends list know their actions, feelings, and thoughts.
Virtual Worlds

When talking to your children about communicating safely on SNS, do not forget to include virtual worlds. Although the main purpose of virtual worlds is not networking, they often have some of the same communications functions as SNS. For example, in the virtual world Club Penguin, users can instant message each other. Before letting your child sign up for a virtual world, know how and with whom they may be communicating.

Tips

Help children use social networking sites safely

Social networking sites can have many benefits for children, such as allowing them to explore new interests. Help your children use them more safely by going over the following tips and discussion starters.

  • Check your child’s friend lists to see who has access to his or her profile. Make sure your child knows all friends in person.
  • Teach your child to set profiles to private–but be aware that privacy settings do not guarantee complete privacy.
  • Have your child remove any inappropriate content and photos and delete any personal information.
  • Check the profiles of your child’s friends to see if there is revealing information or photos about your child.
  • Report inappropriate or criminal behavior to the appropriate authority. Most sites have a reporting mechanism for non-criminal behavior. Criminal behavior should be reported through law-enforcement agencies and the CyberTipline® at www.cybertipline.com.

Discussion Starters

Start a discussion with your child

Use these discussion starters to get an Internet safety conversation going with your children. The more often you talk to them about online safety, the easier it will get, so don’t get discouraged if they don’t respond immediately!

  • Could you show me your online profile(s)?
  • Do you use your real name or age when communicating with others online?
  • What kinds of things do your post on your page?
  • How do you decide who to add as a friend?
  • Would you feel comfortable if I checked your profile?