If you’ve ever watched “To Catch a Predator,” MySpace and Facebook may be on the list of off-limits sites for your kids. These social networking Web sites attract people of all age groups and all backgrounds, and sadly, safety and security on these venues are far from sufficient. With all the crime in the news today, it is imperative that parents take extra precautions and follow safety tips when letting their pre-teens and teens use these social sites. While chatting and blogging and meeting new people online can be a lot of fun, it can also be unsafe.
Members who use sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster can create profiles about themselves, upload photos, and search for people to add as “friends” to their social networks. They can leave comments for other members and they can send them e-mail messages. They can write blogs about themselves, their friends, and what’s going on in their lives. These sites are very much like online journals and diaries that broadcast one’s life to the world.
Children, teenagers, and adults turn to social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster to meet new friends, locate old and forgotten friends, keep in touch with current friends, and often to find new dating partners. Often, a member’s profile page divulges personal information about his or her life, including age, interests, religion, even body type, and alarmingly, school and hometown. For safety and security reasons, this array of information combined with the member’s photograph can be a dangerous combination.
A common fear among parents and authorities alike is that pedophiles and sex offenders have easy and instant access to their targets. Chris Hansen of the popular show “To Catch a Predator” suspects that MySpace and other online friendship networking sites are a breeding ground for sexual predation. Predators don’t always represent themselves truthfully online according to age and other identifying factors, so it isn’t always easy for kids and other site members to pick them out.
As a parent, you want to ensure that your child is always safe and protected. Here are some safety tips to help you keep a strong and healthy relationship with your child while also leveraging good security precautions.
Safety Tips for Social Networking Sites:
Follow these steps to safeguard your child’s activities on MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, and other social sites.
1. Explain the potential dangers of the Internet to your children. Talk openly and honestly with them about bad people who use the Internet to do bad things. Discuss the importance of disclosing their proper age rather than lying to appear older. Also explain how anything your children say online can come back to embarrass them if they are not careful with what they say. The Internet is an open forum for the world to see. It’s just like shouting from the rooftops!
2. Keep open lines of communication with your kids. If you work at it from the time they are young, you should be able to develop a good relationship where your kids feel comfortable coming to you for advice. Encourage them to tell you about their school day each night at dinner. Ask them if they had a good time when they visited a friend’s house. Show an interest in your child’s life, and you should find that you have fewer surprises as your child matures.
3. Don’t allow your child to use the Internet behind closed doors. Keep the computer in a family area so that you have an idea of the types of sites that your children are visiting. Enable passwords to ensure that you know when your child is on the Internet.
4. You keep the password to your child’s account. If you allow your child to post a profile on any social networking sites like MySpace or Friendster or Facebook, decide on a password that your child could not easily crack. You then become an essential part of your children’s experience on MySpace, and they cannot access their profile without your permission.
5. Encourage your kids to only add people that they know to their friends’ list. The chance of a pedophile, sex offender, or other criminal targeting your children is drastically reduced if your kids only accept people they know into their network.
The social networking sites do impose their own safety guidelines and security procedures. MySpace requires that its members be at least 14 years of age, and requires a birth date be entered when they sign up. Staff members perform surveillance from time to time to detect underage members. But no amount of site maintenance can make up for good parenting!
When it comes to keeping your children safe from online dangers, close supervision and good, open lines of communication are paramount. Follow the safety tips in this article and develop some rules in your household for Internet use. MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster can provide hours of fun and excitement for all who join the sites. With proper attention to safety, you can rest easy while your children can have a good time networking with their friends. Even if they don’t understand right now, your kids deserve the best safety and protection a parent can provide!