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Safer Social Networking

Like adults, young people should protect their privacy and practice good behavior online. In addition, there are some extra precautions parents should take with their children to reduce risks.
  • Is your child ready? Consider your child’s age and maturity level before you agree to let them join a social networking website. Facebook and Twitter, two of the most popular sites, ban youngsters under the age of 13. Google+ allows teens to join, but the network’s default privacy settings are more restrictive for young users. Remember, young users of social networking sites could be exposed to adult content.
  • Use privacy features. Privacy features are a key element of safe social networking. If you allow your teen to join a site, make sure they use the available privacy features. Websites frequently change or update their privacy policies, so you’ll need to stay up-to-date on the site’s features.
  • If it is posted, it isn’t private. Make sure your teen understands that the things they post online can easily end up being seen by people they never intended, no matter their privacy settings. If they want a photo or something they wrote to stay private, make sure they know it isn’t safe to post it anywhere online.
  • Keep it clean. Talk to your teen about what kind of information is appropriate to share online. If a young person’s chat room conversations, online profile or blog entries suggest an interest in sex, an adult who is looking for a willing young person may believe that they have located a good candidate to victimize.
  • Who can be your “friend”? Young people who are active online will receive “friend” requests from people they’ve never met. Talk to them about how to handle those requests. Make sure they know to think carefully before accepting requests from people they don’t know in real life.
  • Online-only friends need a special category. If you allow your teen to make online friends with people they don’t know in real life, consider setting up a special group status for those people. You should be able to create one that doesn’t allow them the same access to your child’s information, and prohibits them from posting comments on your child’s page.

Most importantly, make sure your child knows to talk to you or another trusted adult if something happens to them online or in real life that makes them uncomfortable. If the cause of their discomfort was inappropriate content or abuse online, report it to the site immediately.

Parents who decide to let their child join a social networking site should learn how to make it a safer experience.