Your kids may use social networking sites designed for children such as Webkinz or Club Penguin, or sites designed for adults such as YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and others.
Kids use social networks to connect with others who might live halfway around the world and with their peers whom they see every day at school.
Kids should understand that many of these social networking sites can be viewed by anyone with access to the Internet. As a result, some of the information they post can make them vulnerable to phishing scams, online bullying, and Internet predators. Here are several ways to help kids use social networking sites safely.
Communicate with kids about their experiences. Encourage your children to tell you if something they encounter on the Internet makes them feel anxious, uncomfortable, or threatened. Stay calm and remind your kids it is OK to bring it to your attention. Let them know you will work with them to help resolve the situation positively.
Establish Internet rules. As soon as your children use the Internet on their own, establish rules for Internet use. These rules should define whether your children can use social networking sites and how they can use them. For more information about setting rules, see Using family contracts to help protect your kids online.
Ensure your kids follow age limits. The recommended age to sign up for social websites is usually 13 and over. If your children are under the recommended age, do not let them use the sites. You cannot rely on the services themselves to keep your underage child from signing up.
Teach your children never meet anyone in person that they've communicated with online only. Kids are in real danger when they meet strangers in person whom they've communicated with online only. It might not be enough to simply tell your child not to talk to strangers, because your child might not consider someone they've "met" online to be a stranger. For more advice on protecting your children on the Internet, see Online predators: What you can do to minimize the risk.
Encourage your children to communicate with people they already know. You can help protect your children by encouraging them to use these sites to communicate with friends, but not with people they've never met in person.
Ensure your kids don't use full names. Teach your child to use only a first name or nickname, but not a nickname that would attract inappropriate attention. Also, do not allow your children to post the full names of their friends.
Be wary of identifiable information in your child's profile. Many social websites allow kids to join public groups that include everyone who goes to a certain school.
Be careful when your children reveal information that can identify them, such as a school mascot, a workplace, or the name of the town they live in. Too much information can make your children vulnerable to online bullying, Internet predators, Internet fraud, or identity theft. For more information, see Recognize phishing scams and fake emails.
Consider using a site that is not very public. Some websites allow you to password-protect your site or use other methods to help limit viewers to only people your child knows.
Be smart about details in photographs. Explain to your children that photographs can reveal a lot of personal information. Encourage your children not to post photographs of themselves or their friends with clearly identifiable details such as street signs, license plates on their cars, or their school name on clothing.
Warn your child about expressing emotions to strangers. You've probably already encouraged your kids not to communicate with strangers directly online. However, kids use social websites to write journals and poems that often express strong emotions.
Explain to your children that anyone with access to the Internet can read their words and predators often search out emotionally vulnerable kids.
Teach your children about online bullying. As soon as your children are old enough to use social websites, talk to them about online bullying. Tell them that if they think they're being bullied on the Internet, they should share this information right away with a parent, a teacher, or another adult that they trust. It's also important to encourage kids to communicate with other people online in the same way they would face-to-face. Ask kids to treat other people the way they would prefer to be treated.
Removal of your child's page. If your children refuse to follow the rules you've set to help protect their safety and you've attempted to help them change their behavior, you can contact the social website your child uses and ask them to remove the page. You may also want to investigate Internet-filtering tools as a complement to, not a replacement for, parental supervision.
Do you want more information about how to help protect your child on the Internet? See Help protect kids online: 4 things you can do.