Tips for Safe Social Networking

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Social networking sites like Facebook have become all the rage: by one estimate, some 75% of American teenagers have joined at least one. How can you make sure your kids are using these sites safely, and under your supervision? Start with these tips:

  • Make sure your kids know what they can and can’t post online. For instance (as we’ve said elsewhere), kids should never post their full names, street or email addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, or anything about their parents’ personal financial status. For their safety, they shouldn’t talk about sex or other provocative issues, either.
  • Make sure your kids use screen names that can’t be personally identified and aren’t sexually provocative.
  • Use the strongest privacy settings your site provides: restrict who can view your child’s pages to people he or she knows in “real life.”
  • Younger children should reject all requests by strangers to become a “friend.” (You can set MySpace to automatically refuse “add” requests from people who can’t spell your child’s last name.)
  • Know your child’s online friends. Don’t recognize a name? Ask your child who that person is, and how they became acquainted.
  • Remind your child that other people – such as employers and college admission people – may read their pages and look at the pictures they’ve posted. Once it’s been posted in public, it’s out of their control – forever. Even if they delete their pages, copies might still be accessible through search engines, and other people might have saved copies on their own computers.
  • Use Google and other search engines to find information your child may have posted ‘online’ as well as information and comments others may have posted on your child. Also consider joining your child’s social networking site so you can easily visit his or her site and track any changes made to it. (If you do, let your child know you’ll be visiting on occasion.)
  • Understand your site’s privacy policies, and check out the safety tools they make available to parents, if any.
  • Many sites prohibit children under 13. Don’t give your children permission to use these sites: those restrictions are there for a reason. (By the way, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires sites to get your permission before they collect, use, or share any information about your child. If a site lets your child register without notifying you, they’re violating a federal law.)
  • Don’t just worry about child predators. Warn your kids about garden-variety scammers, too: people out to steal their money, and yours.

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