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A Parent's Guide to Social Networking in 2013

By: Melina Druga contributor

The popularity of social media has exploded in recent years. There are 1.06 billion active users on Facebook, 500 million users on Twitter, 400 million on Google+ along with millions of users on countless other social networking sites as of early 2013.

Kids and Social Networks

90% of teens are using Social Networking sites every single day.

A survey conducted in 2012 by child advocacy group Common Sense Media found that nine out of ten teens ages 13-17 use social networking sites, most on a daily basis. The most popular site among teens is Facebook. A small percentage of teens are involved on Twitter and Google+.

The Internet is a big place, and teens especially seem to be very trusting of the people they befriend online. So what can parents to do to protect their children? The following is a guide to the most common risks on social networking sites and what you can do to avoid them.

Personal Safety Risks

Even though the vast majority of comments and photos posted online are innocent and no harm comes from them, it is still worth being vigilant about protecting your teens’ personal information online.

Tips for protecting personal safety:

  1. Age appropriate sites: Make sure the sites your children are using are age appropriate. Facebook, for example, requires users to be 13 or older in order to join. This doesn’t mean, of course, that your children can’t use a different date of birth just to join. Check your children’s browser history to see what sites they’ve been frequenting.
  2. Privacy settings: Show your children how to use privacy settings on their accounts and why these settings are important.
  3. Strong passwords: Teach kids to keep their passwords private and to never share them with anyone, including significant others and best friends. Remind them passwords should be hard to guess and contains numbers, letters and symbol. Encourage children to set a password for their cell phones as well.
  4. Be careful what you click: Teach your kids how to recognize a phishing link or email as well as to never lick on a link that looks suspicious.

Privacy Risks

Many teens are guilty of oversharing, when a person divulges excessive personal information in a public forum. This oversharing can put teens, as well as their family members, at risk for their privacy being compromised or their identity stolen.

Tips for avoiding privacy risks:

  1. Avoid personal information: Encourage children never to post full birthdates, address, phone numbers, school name, bank account information or other personal details online.
  2. Parents, that goes for you, too: Avoid posting your children’s full names and birthdates online.
  3. Google yourself: Periodically do a search online for risks to your and your children’s security. Do a search for full names in quotes. This will search for your name as a phrase. Search also for your address, phone numbers, nicknames, screen names and e-mail addresses. If you find something that shouldn’t be there, take steps to delete it.

Reputation Risks

Teens who post online without thinking first put themselves at risk for damaging their reputations and, worse, harming their chances of getting into a good college or landing their dream job.

Tips for avoiding reputation risk:

  1. Have access: Have access to your children’s accounts and monitor their posts. This can help prevent them from posting something they will regret later.
  2. Everyone can see: Teens are often unaware what they post now can come back and haunt them later. Explain to your children that they things they post online can be visible to colleges and future employers.

Home and Property Risks

Posting too much information about their home and their location puts teens at risk for robbery or physical harm.

Tips for avoiding home and property risks:

  1. Posting location: Teach your children why it’s important not to post their location with posts.
  2. Away from home: Never post when you’ll be away from home. It’s an invitation to burglars.
  3. No face to face: Make sure your children are aware they are not permitted to meet face-to-face someone they met online.
  4. No strangers: Consider only letting your children friend people online whom they know offline.

Risks to Others

Teens don’t always think of the consequences of their actions. The things they post online can be harmful to their family and friends, potentially ruining their reputation or putting them physically at risk.

Tips for avoid putting others at risk:

  1. Is it embarrassing?: Encourage teens not to post comments or photos of others rude, lewd or illegal behavior. Explain how these can go beyond embarrassing a friend and could get them into trouble with parents, school official or the law. It also can harm their chances of getting into college, getting a job and can ruin relationships.
  2. Don’t make them a liar: Explain how a teacher who has been kind enough to write a recommendation for your teens will feel to find out the student is not as kind, responsible and level headed as they thought.

Teaching your children social media safety will not only keep them and your family safe, it will teach them skills they will need to stay safe no matter where they surf online.

Exceptional Sites

The following are excellent websites for learning more about the topic of social networking safety.

Exceptional Sites on Social Networking Safety

The following are excellent websites for learning more about the topic of social networking safety.