If you have a teenager between the ages of 13 and 17, chances are very good that they have at least one profile on MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Xanga or one of the other popular social networks. After all, a 2006 study conducted by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) approximately 61% of teenagers, ages 13 to 17 years old have a personal profile on one of the social networking sites. Of this group, older teens, age 16 and 17, and girls make up for most of the social networking profile holders. So if your teenager has a space on MySpace, there are a few things that you, as a parent, should know and do to keep your child safe.
Chilling Facts on Teen Internet Usage and Perception
First, let's get the scary stuff out of the way. These statistics come from the study done by Cox Communication and NCMEC and they give us a chilling glimpse into what our children are facing in today's online world.
- While approximately 61% of children, ages 13 to 17, have a personal profile on one or more of the social networking sites, more than half of them have also posted a photo of themselves online.
- 71% of teenagers surveyed reported that they had received online messages from people they did not know and 45% said that they had been asked for personal information by someone they did not know.
- 30% of teenagers surveyed reported that they had considered meeting someone that they had only communicated with online while 14% of teenagers reported that they had actually met a person face to face whom they had only communicated with online. This included 9% of 13 to 15 year olds and 22% of 16 to 17 year olds.
- When asked if they would chat online with someone they did not know if that person sent them a message, 40% of the teenagers reported that they would usually reply and chat with that person.
- 18% of teenagers surveyed reported that they would tell an adult if someone they did not know contacted them.
Many teenagers do not seem to feel that the internet can pose any type of threat. 20% stated that it was "very safe" or "somewhat safe" to share personal information online while 37% said that they were "not very concerned" or "not at all concerned" about someone getting their personal information that they posted online and using it in ways that they do not want.
What can Parents Do?
Parents can take an active part in their children's online activity. While forbidding internet usage may seem like a good option, it is not a very viable one. Internet access is too easily obtained these days, from friends' homes to public libraries to computer labs at school make it very easy for your child to access the internet outside of your home. Also, don't fool yourself by thinking that your child would not defy your rules, more likely than not, they will. It has nothing to do with your parenting skills or whether they are "good" or "bad" kids, it's just kids. The forbidden fruit is always sweetest so when you say no, they see something very cool and tempting.
So, what can parents do? Talk to your kids. Get involved. 33% of children, ages 13 to 17, said that their parents know "nothing" or "very little" about their online activities and 22% reported that their parents had never talked with them about internet safety.
Studies show that teens whose parents talk to them "a lot" about internet safety are less likely to post pictures of themselves or use their real name that children whose parents have not talked to them. They are also more likely to ignore messages from people they don't know as well as refuse to chat, block senders that they don't know and report such occurrences to their parents or to a trusted adult.
All it takes is a few minutes of discussion and regular follow up. You feed your children, send them to school, make sure that they have the things that they need, make sure that they know how to protect themselves when they are online. You can even take it another step and get your own profile. This way, you can visit their profile, monitor what they are posting and interact with them on their own turf.
When it comes down to it, social networks like MySpace, Friendster, Face book and others have replaced the telephone. Teens will check their profiles a couple of times a day. It is their lifelink to their peers and a way for them to communicate with their friends. Taking it away would, in a sense be isolating your child from a social support system that can be beneficial to them – as long as they use it wisely and safely. It is really no different from allowing your child to ride their bike to a friend's home or drive your car to the library. Internet is the new telephone.
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