Social networking sites and your kids

March 13, 2009 5:05:07 PM PDT
Learn the facts about social networking sites and keep your kids safe online.

Mary Kay Hoal tried everything she could to keep her daughter off of MySpace.

She forbade her from using the site, put password locks on the computer and even blocked the site. Still, her daughter found ways to access the popular social networking site. Hoal's concerns stemmed from information and statistics that now show 90,000 registered sex offenders were on MySpace, one out of every five kids are sexually solicited online, and nine out of ten children are exposed to pornography online.

When she looked for alternatives for parents worried about the dangers lurking in the cyber-shadows, she found none, so she decided to do something about it.

The result is http://yoursphere.com, the only social networking site for kids and teens that's backed by the Federal Trade Commission through the site's Privacy Vaults approval. The site's Chief Technology officer worked at the California Department of Justice tracking anonymous online sex offenders, as well as the Megan's Law database. Moreover, it requires verified parental consent for a minor to join.

Tips for keeping your kids safe on social networking sites:

  1. Think about your child's safety in the online world like you do in the offline world: don't allow that them to talk to anyone they don't know. Don't allow them to post personally identifiable information. Become educated on the true dangers that exist online for kids - through cell phones, hand-helds, gaming systems, computers.

  2. Stay aware of the trends and dangers that exist for your children online. Join www.Internet-safety.Yoursphere.com . A place where parents, adults, and anyone that cares about the safety of children online can join the discussion, learn about positive (and negative) trends and dangers, share experiences, best practices and learn about the world of Internet Safety from experts.

  3. Get comfortable and involved with the technology your kids uses. You can't change it, or eliminate it from your kids lives, so embrace it, learn about it, use it . You can probably place a call on a cell phone, use email and look up a video on YouTube. . But you probably haven't figured out how to send a photo from your phone, or loaded that picture to a web page. You probably haven't created a profile on an adult-focused social networking site. Ask your kids to share with you what they know. Learn about the online sites and online games they like to play. Do some site research on their own to share with them games you think they'll enjoy and that you'll feel comfortable with.

  4. Open up communication lines with your kids . While we might sometimes use game systems or the computer as babysitters, it's important that parents think about the safety of their children online just as they do offline. That means understanding what the dangers are. If you open up communication about the "weird things/dangerous things" you've heard about or seen on the internet, and you make your kids know that they can share anything "weird" with you, you'll both become more comfortable taking about technology; you'll open lines of communication and talking about "weird" topics is a great way to approach the online " dangers/safety." (Persistence does pay off!)

  5. Set up a log in for each family member on the home computer. With all computers, you can set up a log in for each family member. From there, you can monitor what each person is doing. The administrator has all the passwords and can use parental controls and block certain types of websites with key words. Its the same principle as some businesses not allowing certain internet sites during business hours.
Common Facts/Fiction about Social Networking Sites

Facts:

  • Most sites have no identity verification or screening of members. It's a free for all that can take advantage of kids.

  • Talking with your kids about online safety does help. Research shows that kids whose parents talk with them about safe online behavior do less risky things online.

  • The best strategy for keeping your kids safe online is a mix of technology and personal parental involvement like filters and firewalls and keeping the computer in a public room at home, talking and reminding them of safe behavior.

  • Social networking sites can be fun, engaging and positive for youth. Research has shown that kids explore interests, find information that goes beyond what they have access to at school or in their local community and allows them to connect to with peers who share specialized niche interests.
Fiction:
  • It's best just to keep your kids off social networking sites altogether. Research shows youth are picking up basic social and technical skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society - youth add new media skills to their repertoire, are able to engage in self-direct learning and enjoy friendship-driven and interest-driven online activities

  • Having a profile on a social networking site set to "Private" safeguards a person from anyone intending them harm. Members with profiles set to private can still get friend request and are two clicks away from pornographers, trollers, or others intending harm.

  • It's really the "fringe kids" that are in danger on social networking sites. Incorrect, according to research by the time kids are they teens have tuned out the "stranger danger" messages and that type of online education is no longer effective.

  • COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) protects all kids online.

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