Social Networking for Kids: Is It Safe?

By Katie LeClerc Greer

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.

About Katie LeClerc Greer

Katie LeClerc Greer 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 and utilizes patent-pending facial recognition technologies, moderation and kid-friendly features. 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.

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