The New Risks for Teens in Social Networking SitesMary O. Foley
Human beings are social animals. The urge to meet new people is in our genetic code, and nowhere is it stronger than among our teens. And for this generation, social networking sites have replaced the shopping mall as the preferred place to meet up.
As we all know, it’s easier than ever to connect and share information online in social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. And this means a teen’s most intimate musings or digital snapshots can become public in less than a second, carrying risks that are not often taken seriously enough.
only now beginning to understand the potential risks posed by cyber
criminals and predators perusing popular social networking sites, but
did you know that potential employers are looking as well? Do your
teens know that whatever they post today, can possibly haunt them years
later when looking for a job? Or even when applying to college or
looking for a mate?
The world really is watching
“Don’t put information out there that can haunt you later,” warns Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use#IF($EnableExternalLinks) (cyberbully.o#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTrg)#ENDIF. A growing number of employers, and even universities, are searching social networking sites as part of their review of candidates applying for a job or a college scholarship.
Not only do you have to guard what you write about yourself, but you also have to be aware of what others write about you. It’s becoming more common these days for a former boyfriend or girlfriend, or school bully, to create a bogus page on these sites that show you in a less than flattering light. Another tactic is to post personal contact information about someone on X-rated web sites.
Social networking sites -- whether they cater to teens or to adults -- allow people to express themselves freely and meet others who share similar interests. But some people mistakenly believe that posting personal details about a night out partying will only be read by close friends. But anyone -- over 700 million Internet users around the globe -- can read these pages. And they do -- often with serious consequences.
While MySpace requires registration to create a personalized page and allows members to limit viewers, but members must request these settings. And because most teens don’t do this, many MySpace pages can be seen by virtually anyone. Visitors to the site can conduct a search based on the subject’s age group (over 18 only) or gender, and respond with “friend” status. Kids as young as 14 years old are allowed to create a page.
Tempted to pull the plug on the family computer? Willard warns “that’s the worst thing you can do.” Teens will find a way to access the Internet, so it’s best to work with them, not against them, she says.
How to avoid the social networking trap
Here are a few do's and don'ts for how to be safe at social networking sites, and to prevent the world from getting a lasting misimpression of you and your teens.
- Don’t believe everything you read online Be suspicious of someone who wants to know too much about you, is overly complimentary, or seems to try too hard to help you. They could be a predator trying to win your trust. Teach this skepticism to your kids, too.
- Watch what you write Never blog about yourself drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or engaging in other behavior that might raise eyebrows. Think carefully before posting extreme social or political views. Such posts might be viewed by an admissions department of a college, or by someone interviewing you for a job. “Unless you’re prepared to attach the information on your MySpace page to you’re applications for college, job, internship, scholarship or sports team, don’t post it,” says Parry Aftab, a lawyer specializing in Internet security and executive director of #IF($EnableExternalLinks)WiredSafety.o#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTrg#ELSEWired Safety#ENDIF.
- Protect access to your information If you feel you must use social networking sites, use those that allow you to protect your information with passwords. This is the best way to limit access to people who you have designated as “friends.”
- Stand up to cyberbullies If you get into a situation where someone is posting defamatory information about you, there are actions you can take. Teens should tell their parents. Parents can contact the social networking site with a complaint. And there is always the option of taking legal action if these activities get out of hand.
- Monitor your kids' activities Ask to see your child’s profile page, but give them a moment to remove anything they know shouldn’t be there, advises Aftab. “It becomes a way to teach a child what should not be posted,” she says. “You’re not trying to create a ‘gotcha’ moment.” Think of it this way: if 700 million people online can already view the page online, it’s not invading their privacy if you ask to see it too.
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