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Parents: What You Need to Know About Social Networking Websites

Are you the parent of a teenager?  If you are, there is a good chance that your child is interested in using social networking websites, like Facebook, if they don’t already.  Although these websites are a nice way to stay in contact with friends, especially those who may have moved away, they can also be dangerous.  That is why, as a parent, you should learn as much as you can about popular social networking websites.

It is first important to know that social networking websites, especially Facebook, are popular.  Even if you think that your teenager isn’t using them, they may be.  This is because most high school and junior high school students think that social networking websites, like MySpace, are “cool”.  In fact, Facebook and other similar websites are hot topics that are discussed in many schools across the country.

As popular as social networking websites are, it is important to also know that they can be dangerous.  This doesn’t, however, mean that you automatically have to ban your child from using them.  As the parent, you have the right to control which websites your child visits in your home and on your computer, but knowledge is key.  If your child knows the dangers that lurk on social networking websites, they are better able to protect themselves and use social networking websites as they were meant to be used, to easily and safely communicate with friends.

What you also need to know about social networking websites is that just about anyone can read what your child posts online.  That is why children, typically those under the age of 18, should have their profiles set to private.  This way, only those who are accepted as their friends can see what they have posted.  Otherwise, your teenager daughter may innocently post a picture from last summer’s pool party and a child predator could get the wrong impression or want to target your daughter just because of that otherwise innocent photo they were able to view.

Speaking of internet predators, they have been known to target social networking websites.  What is so concerning about this is that many teens and their parents don’t realize that they are dealing with an internet predator until it becomes too late.  Just because an internet user has a profile and pictures that make them look like a 15 year old boy or girl, it doesn’t mean that they are the same age as your child.  In fact, they could even be a registered sex offender.

As it was previously stated, pictures or videos that a child posts on their Facebook page or the page of another social networking profile can be viewed and misinterpreted by others.  There are also other dangers associated with posting personal pictures and videos.  As cool as your teenager may think it is to have a picture or video of them doing a prank or drinking, it could land them into a lot of trouble.  Many schools and police departments are starting to use MySpace and other social networking websites to their advantage. Your teen may find themselves in trouble with the law, suspended from school, or suspended from their extra curricular activities.

It is also important to know that some social networking websites make it easy for your child’s real identity to be discovered.  This could lead to someone showing up at your door, stalking your child, sending them letters, or even calling your home.  For example, Facebook posts your location online, which often includes your city and state.  There is also a spot where your child can enter in what school they attend.  Combine this with a picture and your teen can easily become a target.

As previously stated, social networking websites can be dangerous, but that danger decreases when your child is aware of it.  Ways that you can protect your child involve having them set all social networking profiles to private. Establish rules about accepting new online friends.  You will also want to view your child’s profile from time to time.  Are any personal pictures or videos posted?  If so, you may want to have your child remove them. Also, make sure that no personal information, including full name, address, phone number, and school name, is divulged.

The Importance of Monitoring Your Child’s MySpace Use   As important as it is to hear that MySpace can be dangerous for children and teenagers, you may be looking for more information.  Many parents are unaware of the dangers that MySpace and the internet in general holds.  The best way to protect your child online and on MySpace is to be aware.

One reason why you need to monitor your child’s use of Facebook is because of internet predators, which are also often sexual predators.  Facebook makes it easy for strangers to communicate with each other.  The internet in general makes it easy to be someone else, like someone a lot younger or someone a lot older.  Your child may end up talking to a 50 year old man or woman, who pretends to be someone their age.  For that reason, you need to monitor your child’s Facebook account.  Make sure that they are not sharing personal information online, such as their full name, phone number, or address.

Another one of the many reasons why you should monitor your child’s use of Facebook is because of pictures and video.  Facebook allows all internet users to post pictures and videos.  In fact, it is relatively easy to do so.  All profiles that are public can be viewed by others.  In keeping with internet predators, Facebook also records and posts your child’s location, such as the city and state.  Posting this information, along with their first name, the school, and a personal photo or video can make it easier for your children to be found, even by those who they havenít made direct contact with online.

Although internet predators are often the biggest threat of children using the internet and Facebook, there is another danger that lurks.  There have been multiple news reports that highlight children, mostly teenagers, who have been suspended from school, suspended from sports teams, or arrested.  This is often the result of a Facebook user posting pictures or videos of them doing something illegal, like stealing, doing drugs, or drinking underage.  If this is information that your child has on their Facebook page, you will want to see it and get it removed before their school or the authorities do.

Now that you know some of the dangers that children face when using Facebook, you may be curious as to how you can go about protecting them.  First, make sure you know if your child has a Facebook account.  You can view your computer’s history or perform a search on the Facebook.com page to see if your child has a profile listed.  If they do, view their profile.  You should talk to your child about the dangers of Facebook anyways, but you should definitely talk to them if you see something disturbing on their Facebook page.  This should include conversations that take a sexual tone or the exchange of personal information.

As a reminder, the monitoring of your child’s Facebook use is extremely important.  No matter how mature or reliable your child is, they may unintentionally become a victim.

Should You Let Your Child Post Pictures and Videos Online?  When it comes to determining if you should let your child post personal pictures and videos of themselves online, you, as the parent, should have the final say.  With that said, it is first important to examine the pros and cons of letting your child post these items online.  Pictures and videos are common on social networking websites, like MySpace and Facebook.

In all honesty, the only true pro or plus side to letting your child post videos or pictures of themselves online is because it is what your child wants to do.  Letting them post their pictures and videos online will likely make your child happy.  They can easily share videos and pictures with friends, as opposed to actually bringing them to school.

As much as your child or teenager may want to post personal pictures or videos of themselves online, it is also important to know that there are many cons or downsides to doing so.  One of those is the wrong impression.  Say you have a teenager daughter who posts a picture of herself wearing a low-cut shirt online.  Even though no cleavage is showing, the picture can create the wrong impression.  Sexual online predators may think she is welcoming attention, and so forth.  You and your child need to know that not everyone interprets things the same way.

Speaking of the wrong impression, it is important to know that pictures and videos can easily fall into the wrong hands online.  If your child is using a social networking website, like MySpace or Facebook, is their profile set to private?  If not, anyone with their own account can view their private and personal pictures and videos.  Your child may be interested posting pictures and videos to share with their friends, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t see them.  Unfortunately, those others can have impure intentions.

Another con or downside to letting your child post personal pictures and videos of themselves online is that they are easy to copy.  Yes, a picture or a video can be taken down, but did you know that it may already be too late?  People can easily copy and repost or copy and save videos and pictures that are posted online for whatever reason, including their own personal pleasure.

As you can see, there are a number of pros and cons to letting your child post pictures and videos of themselves online, namely on social networking websites.  As the parent, the decision is yours to make, but be sure to use your best judgment.  When it doubt, the best answer may be no.

If you do decide to let your child or teenager post personal pictures and videos of themselves online or if you already think that they do, be sure to check them.  Ask to see the photos yourself.  Make sure that your child is well covered in any photographs that they post.  As for videos, make sure they aren’t doing anything illegal, like stealing, or showing anything suggestive, even if it is simply meant as an inside joke among friends.