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The dangers of Facebook

on August 26, 2012

The most popular social networking site among teenagers is Facebook, which is used by 7% of teens who use social networks. Facebook, once a closed system limited to school and college communities, has recently become more open. Facebook puts a greater emphasis on actually knowing the people that you connect with. Other social networks used by teenagers include 2go, Yahoo and Baboo.

Positives and Negatives

Apart from the social benefits, social networking sites can be used to document school research, promote artistic talents and experiment with other forms of content creation. They provide a way to interact with others who share the same interests and to get constructive feedback on ongoing projects.

Along with these benefits come some risks. Most social networking sites are open to all, especially MySpace, which means that your teen could be exposed to harassment, bullying or sexual advances.

Cyber-bullying and harassment are most often perpetrated by other teens and tend to happen most to older girls and to teens of either gender who have a strong online presence. It may take several forms: publicizing private instant messages, text messages or e-mails, posting threatening messages, posting photos that will cause embarrassment and spreading rumors.

It’s rare for harassment to spill over into real-world conflicts, but it can still be a cause of emotional distress for teens.

A greater danger is that teens may become targets of pedophiles. The anonymity of some social networking sites makes it easy for unscrupulous people to target young teens and engage them in harmful conversations. It’s easy for predators to pose as teens and lure children into harmful real-world contact as well. Most social networking sites have privacy controls in place, but teens seldom use them. Active monitoring of profiles and behaviors catches some predators, but not all of them.

Another risk is identity theft, which can occur when teens share too much information about their name, date of birth and location.

Social networking safety

It’s up to parents to make sure their kids are safe when they use social networking. Many of the same rules that apply to online chat apply to these sites:

*Use an alias.

*Don’t give out personal information to people you don’t know. A last name and a town are enough for a predator to locate your child.

*Don’t assume that people are who they claim to be.

*Immediately end any communication that makes you uncomfortable and report it to a parent.

*For younger teens, you should investigate any sites they’d like to use. Find out what privacy protections are in place and insist that your teen uses them. For children under 16, that often means a private profile that can only be seen by approved friends.

*Older teens may want a public profile to promote a band or other creative work. In this case, have your child create a second, public profile for the project while still restricting the personal profile to family and close friends. It’s best to set up these profiles with a free e-mail from Yahoo or Google using an alias that can’t be traced back to find personal information.

*Encourage your kids to tell you if they’re victims of cyber bullying or harassment. Many teens will try to deal with this on their own, which can have disastrous consequences. If your child knows who’s behind the harassment, involve the other child’s parents or school officials. If it’s anonymous, remind your child that it’s  not personal; some people just think it’s fun to say mean things about others.

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