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Mar
14

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) states that 40% of 8-18 year olds visit a social networking site at least once a day. Let’s face it: social networking is here to stay.  Like it or not, it will play a role in our lives at some point, if it hasn’t already. So the question for parents is, how can we control our children’s exposure to it? Many parents may argue that as long as their children live under their roof, they can restrict things like social networking. However, this idea of restriction may not be completely realistic or necessary. Think of all the times your child has begged you to let them sign up for Facebook or some other social networking site. Have you found yourself scratching your head wondering: are social networks safe for my kids to use? Depending on the household, this answer to this will vary. Here are several basic considerations that will help you decide whether or not social networking is appropriate for your kids.

Respect The Rules

Is your child old enough to be on a social networking site? Some social networking sites have already made the decision for you. If you have kids under the age of 13, many social networking sites do not allow them to join or participate such as Facebook and MySpace. However, with no age verification in place on these sites, many kids under the age of 13 sign up using a fake birth date. While kids should not be completely prohibited from participating in social networking, violating the rules is not a good option. Such rules are in place for a good reason. If something should go wrong with an underage participant, these sites are rarely willing to intervene, and will take the position that their rules were violated.

Get Involved

The safety of kids on social networking sites greatly depends on parental involvement. Letting your child participate in social networking sites requires diligence and some extra work on your part. Social networking today is a powerful tool, therefore it’s not a great idea to give your kids permission to use it without any guidance or supervision. In fact, letting your kids participate in social networking with no oversight, involvement or rules is how these sites quickly become unsafe. It’s like giving kids the keys to the family car at 16 with no driver’s education or rules. Additionally, teaching kids how to drive requires parents to know how to drive themselves. What does this have to do with social networking and safety? It’s hard to adequately teach our children how to safely participate in social networking sites if we have no clue how they function. While many parents cringe (i.e. my father) at the thought of participating in social networking themselves, there’s a happy medium. If you’re opposed to actively participating on social networking sites, at least sign up and see how they work. You don’t have to friend random people from high school in order to get an understanding of how social networking sites work.

Set a Good Example

If you’re already actively involved in social networking, great! But have you checked your page lately? You’d be shocked to know it’s not uncommon for parents to post completely inappropriate pictures, comments, etc. Back to the driving analogy, if the parent(s) teaching their kid how to drive swears at other drivers, blows through stop signs and speeds, there’s a very good chance that their impressionable driver-to-be will pick up on some of these bad/illegal habits. So, be a good example for your little social networkers.

Talk To Your Kids About The Dangers

It’s important that we explain the potential dangers of social networking to our children, not to scare them but to inform and prepare them. A survey conducted by the Family Online Safety Institute found that:

34% of kids have friends online they’ve never met in person

46% of kids have given out personal information to someone they’ve met online

32% of all teens on the Internet say they have been a victim of cyberbullying

Just like we advise our kids to avoid strangers on the street, we must have the same conversation about their online activities. As parents we need to prepare our children for potential dangerous situations such as cyberbullying or encountering a stranger. This way if the occasion comes up, our kids will know how to handle it. Educating children about how to handle these situations strengthens their ability to responsibly deal with them. Additionally, opening the lines of communication around these issues shows your children you’re there to help them and talk with them if should something come up.

Social Networking Can Be Safe For Kids

It’s true. Social networking can be safe for kids; however, this is dependant on parental involvement, following the rules that are already in place, and setting some of your own. Nobody said parenting would be easy – social networking is just another aspect of our kids’ lives that we have to pay close attention to. Whether we like it or not, our kids are being exposed to social networking early and often. We can either run from it (which may only last so long) or learn how we can help to educate, supervise, and guide them to be responsible participants.

___________________________________________

Empowering Parents is pleased to welcome Katie LeClerc Greer to its blogger team! Katie is the former Internet Safety Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, and former Intelligence Analyst for the Massachusetts State Police. Her nationally recognized Internet/technology safety programs have been delivered to thousands of students, parents, school staff and law enforcement agencies around the country.
Katie is the Director of Content and Internet Safety at www.WhatsWhat.Me, a “kids-only” Website that provides safe, secure social networking for kids ages 7 to 13 (“tweens”) and utilizes patent-pending facial recognition technologies, moderation and kid-friendly features. WhatsWhat.me is compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and fosters an age-appropriate, “no-bullying allowed” community while teaching positive online behavior, Internet safety and related life skills.

     

If you find any comments that are rude or inappropriate, please contact us immediately.

  • Never A Dull Moment Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. The ability to manage these type of electronic interactions will be crucial. Already 20-somethings are in positions to hire, and only “old” people use email. Many interview responses will be to facebook accounts. Teaching kids safety within a framework of some autonomy will help us to raise responsible adults.

  • John Porcaro Says:

    Definitely agree that taking an active role is the most important thing you can do. Great article!

  • Parent Plant Says:

    Limiting the childs time to surf through social networks is ok in my opinion. Everything in moderation will help the child be more active in society and train to give time to everything else. By making this happen parents should definetly get involved and create a better world for our children. Setting an example as a parent is a must, and posting inappropriate content on facebook page as a parent will damage a childs sensitivity towards the real meaning of social networking.

  • Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Says:

    Katie, welcome to the Empowering Parents’ blogger team, and thank you for this informative and insightful post!

  • Katie Greer Says:

    Elisabeth,
    Thanks so much – I’m really happy to be talking with the EP community! Also, the comments are great, so I really appreciate them!
    Katie

  • parenting mistakes Says:

    A lot of kids these days are totally exposed to social networking. It should be in parents concern on how to educate our kids while exposed to technology. Learning is fast through internet, its just depend on how to train our kids.

    A very informative post!

  • Kim Says:

    Good advice. I battled this one for a while. I didn’t want to let my kids participate on face book. Finally, I approved. Parental involvement is the key here just like you said. We as parents must eduacte our chilren about these social networks, and treat them properly ourselves. I monitor my kids on line. I acutally wrote about this same subject on my blog.

  • Katie Greer Says:

    Thank you all so much for the wonderful feedback. I think it’s so important for parent’s to be involved, as challenging as it is to keep on top of all of this technology and the changes that come along with it. As a soon-to-be first-time parent myself, I’m also overwhelmed by all that we have to keep track of. However, I think this constant education is key; not only for kids, but for us parents as well.
    Looking forward to writing more about this topic of social media, stay tuned and thanks again for the wonderful comments!

  • CitySitter Says:

    Many parents are unaware of the dangers of social networking sites. Great article explaining the dangers and how parents can protect their children. It is important to get involved but even more importantly, to stay involved!

  • Mom-Mom Says:

    I would like to say thanks for the info; I do homeschooling as well as have an afterschool program that we use the computer alot; plus just two days ago I was just on the system with my 10 year old grand duaghter just shopping for her birthday; she asked to check her email; then she went to a site that blogs about what have ya; her person as she call it was a 19 year old girl; she had a few hits on there but what the other teenagers was saying was lot of words she know she don’t use; I when though her profile and changed her age and a few things; she also write back to the others that wrote her letting them know that she was a christain and that she don’t talk that way. My grand child is two years ahead of her age, but still I let her know that what she did was not good; plus she took a few classes on online safty when she was getting homeschooled. once again thanks
    Mom-Mom

  • MomInNeedOfHelp Says:

    Help!! I have a daughter that just turned 13 and I do NOT allow her to participate in these social networking sites. I do not beleive that 13 year olds are old enough to realize the dangers that are out there or the consequences of what can happen when all of their ‘impulsive’ comments are out there for the world to read. We also live in an area where these girls use Facebook as a way to say things to each other (or about each other) that they would not normally say at school. For these reasons I have decided that she just isn’t ready to have a Facebook account, she on the other hand disagrees with this choice. When she leaves to go to friends houses she will create pages or reactivate pages I have deactivated. What can I do to make her follow the rules I have set on this matter? Does anybody have any suggestions because grounding and talking about the dangers just isn’t working?

  • Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Says:

    To ‘MomInNeedOfHelp’: It certainly is frustrating when kids continually defy the rules and limits you have set. Unfortunately, there is no way to make your daughter follow your rules—you can only hold her accountable. Instead of grounding her, which I take to mean restricting all of her privileges or not allowing her to go to friend’s houses for a while, you might try to focus more on teaching her. And I don’t mean teaching her about the dangers. What I mean is to problem-solve, to talk to your daughter about what her reason is for creating these profiles. Ask her, “What were you thinking when you made a Facebook account at your friend’s house? What was your reason for doing that?” Remember, this should be very calm and should feel like a curious question, not an angry question. Let your daughter know that her reason does not justify it. “Just because you don’t agree with my rules, doesn’t mean the rules change. The rule is that you are not to have a social media account at this point in time.” Then talk about what your daughter can do differently in the future to follow this rule. It might also be helpful for you to really think about what behavior you need to see from your daughter that will tell you she is ready to try to have her own mom-approved account. Talk to your daughter about this and how she can start working toward the chance to try an account with limits and supervision. Sometimes if kids know they can earn the chance to try something, they are more motivated to follow the rules. On the other hand, if she feels like she will never be allowed to have a social media account, she may only continue to try to problem-solve around your rule. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.