By Kim Linton
According to a teen Web survey commissioned by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 61 percent of those surveyed had profiles on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. In addition, one-third of the teens said they were considering a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online.
When faced with the potential dangers of social networks, some parents think the only way to keep their kids safe is to ban them from the Web. The problem is that tech-savvy teens know how to get around most software blocks, and can get online at other locations. Although it's impossible to eliminate every online threat, here are a few practical tips that will minimize the risks.
Take Advantage Of Safety Features On Social Networking Sites
Most social networking sites have built-in safety features and settings. In MySpace, for example, click on the "Safety Tips" link at the bottom of the home page to access its security information. Learn as much as you can about the security features each site offers, then share the information with your teens.
Teach Teens To Keep Certain Information Private
Teach teens to avoid sharing personal information such as phone numbers, addresses, school, age and their real name. Also, they should avoid creating screen names and passwords that contain information such as birth dates or social security numbers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Web users should "only post information that they are comfortable with others seeing and knowing."
Join A Social Networking Site Yourself
One of the best ways to monitor a teen's online activity is to join the same social networking site and become their "friend." Keep in mind that they may have accounts set up that you don't know about, but most teens have at least one or more MySpace or Facebook profiles. Don't hang out on the site too much, but do drop in occasionally to see what they are up to.
Let Teens Know About Sexual Predators
Social networking sites have become "candy stores" for sexual predators, and most teens are not aware of how dangerous they can be. Teens should avoid posting or texting (especially seductive or nude) photos of themselves, and should never flirt or engage in sexually explicit discussions with anyone. According to the FTC, teens who don't talk about sex with strangers online are less likely to come in contact with predators.
Teach Teens To Report Suspicious Activity
If teens feel threatened by someone or afraid because of something said online, they should tell an adult they trust, report it to the social networking site, and the police if necessary. It's usually easy to tell when someone has crossed the line, the hard part is being brave enough to do something about it. Let teens know that by reporting suspicious activity, they might keep someone else from becoming a victim.