Social networking sites, chat rooms, virtual worlds and blogs are how teens and tweens socialize online. It’s important to help your child learn how to navigate these spaces safely. Among the pitfalls of online socializing are sharing too much information or posting comments, photos or videos causing damage to a reputation or hurting someone’s feelings.
Applying real-world judgment can help minimize those risks.
1. Remind kids online actions have consequences.
The words kids write and the images they post have consequences both online and offline.
Kids should post only what they’re comfortable with others seeing.
Some of your child’s profile may be seen by a broader audience than you—or your child—may be comfortable with, even if privacy settings are high. Encourage your child to be aware of the language he or she uses online. Also teach them to think before posting pictures and videos or altering photos posted by someone else. Employers, college admissions officers, coaches, teachers and the police may view your child’s posts.
Remind kids once they post it, they can’t take it back.
Even if you delete the information from a site, you have little control over older versions which may exist on other people’s computers and may circulate online.
Tell your kids not to impersonate someone else.
Let your kids know it’s wrong to create sites, pages or posts appearing to come from someone else, like a teacher, a classmate or someone they made up.
2. Tell kids to limit what they share.
Help your kids understand what information should stay private.
Tell your kids why it’s important to keep some things—about themselves, family members and friends—to themselves. Information like their Social Security number, street address, phone number, and family financial information— bank account or credit card numbers—is private and should be protected. Vacation plans and photos should be posted after you and you child are safely back home.
Talk to your teens about avoiding sex talk online.
Teens who don’t talk about sex with strangers online are less likely to come in contact with predators. In fact, researchers have found predators usually don’t pose as children or teens and most teens who are contacted by adults they don’t know find it creepy. Encourage your teens to ignore or block them.
3. Encourage online manners.
You teach your kids to be polite offline; talk to them about being courteous online as well. Texting may seem fast and impersonal, yet courtesies like “pls” and “ty” (for please and thank you) are common text terms.
Tone it down.
Using all caps, long rows of exclamation points or large, bolded fonts are the online equivalent of yelling. Most people don’t appreciate a rant.
CC: and Reply All: with care.
Suggest your kids resist the temptation to message everyone on their contact list.
4. Limit access to your kids’ profiles.
Use privacy settings.
Many social networking sites and chat rooms have adjustable privacy settings, so you can restrict who has access to your kids’ profiles. Talk to your kids about the importance of these settings and your expectations for who should be allowed to view their profile.
Set high privacy preferences on your kids’ chat and video chat accounts as well. Most chat programs allow parents to control whether people on their kids’ contact list can see their status, including whether they’re online. Some chat and e-mail accounts allow parents to determine who can send messages to their kids and to block anyone not on the list.
Create a safe screen name.
Encourage your kids to think about the impression a screen names can make. A good screen name won’t reveal much about how old they are, where they live or their gender. For privacy purposes, your kids’ screen names should not be the same as their e-mail addresses.
Review your child’s friends list.
You may want to limit your children’s online “friends” to people they actually know.
5. Talk to kids about what they’re doing online.
Know what your kids are doing.
Get to know the social networking sites your kids use so you understand their activities. If you’re concerned about risky online behavior, you may want to search the social sites they use to see what information they’re posting. Are they pretending to be someone else? Try searching by their name, nickname, school, hobbies, grade or community.
Ask your kids whom they’re in touch with online.
Just as you want to know who your kids’ friends are offline, it’s a good idea to know who they’re talking to online.
Encourage your kids to trust their guts if they have suspicions.
Encourage them to tell you if they feel threatened by someone or uncomfortable because of something online. You can then help them report concerns to the police and to the social networking site. Most of these sites have links for users to report abusive, suspicious or inappropriate behavior.
We Can Help
Safe and responsible online habits are important for you and your entire family. Unhealthy online practices can have negative implications in many areas. We're here to help individuals and their family members make positive choices regarding online and offline behaviors.
If you have concerns or questions, would like help developing healthy patterns of behavior or are facing a life-challenge of any type, take advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through VITAL WorkLife.
Contact VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App
Source: Adapted from Federal Trade Commission (FTC), OnGuard Online. (2011, September). Kids and socializing online. Retrieved June 19, 2014, from http://www.onguardonline.gov/