Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with friends and make new ones. Teens can't get enough of it, and, chances are, you spend time on the social networking site yourself. But for all of the fun Facebook offers, there are potential landmines there, too -- especially when it comes to minors.
You might be thinking you'll just avoid would-be dangers altogether by keeping your kids off of Facebook. And if your child is under the age of 13, he or she would be violating the site's policy by even creating an account. But if your son or daughter is over that age -- good luck. Facebook is an extension of teenagers' social world. Most find it irresistible -- a quick, easy way to keep up with their peer group, any and all of the time. Those who don't use the site may feel left out or under a lot of social pressure to sign up.
So, if you do allow your children on Facebook (and, let's face it, teens find ways of doing things whether or not they're allowed to), what do you -- and they -- need to keep in mind?
First of all, consider your child's digital footprint. This may seem like the least scary of the things your teen can face online, but it may be the most likely threat. Anything that goes online, stays online (in some shape or form), and what might seem silly now could embarrass your teen down the road -- or perhaps even damage his or her educational and career options. In fact, many colleges and corporations review applicants' social networking sites before making their selections.
Educators and employers aren't the only people who may be viewing your child's Facebook site; predators can also find their way to your teen's page. While this is always a risk to guard against, you may be relieved to know that research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 91 percent of teens on social networking sites are there to interact with people they already know in person. This, of course, can come with its on set of problems. For bullies, Facebook can be "Mean Girls" writ large, and the correlation between cyberbullying and teen suicide has come under increased scrutiny.
And if those dangers aren't bad enough, you also have to be concerned about identity theft, overspending on games, leaking of private information about your family, scams and time-wasting.
So how do you sidestep these potential issues? There are no easy answers. How you proceed depends on your child's age and maturity, your parenting style and your relationship with your child. However, a few basic guidelines include:
- Talking to your teen about issues such as privacy, bullying and predators
- Have access to your child's passwords
- Monitoring your child's Internet usage, such as the types of posts he or she makes and who he or she is friends with on the site
- Maintaining strict privacy settings (and your own rules about what can be shared online)
- Reporting bullying or suspicious behavior to the appropriate authorities
You might even be so bold as to "friend" your child on Facebook. While this is a good way for parents to keep up with (and keep an eye on) teens, expect some resistance from your kids when you try this.
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