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Health & Parenting

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Internet Safety for Kids

MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter can help teens connect with friends — but can leave them vulnerable to bullying and worse, too. Here's how to keep your kid safe online.

Mistake 1: Broadcasting Personal Info to the Entire Internet continued...

If your child already has an online profile, check to see if it's public by Googling his name or searching for him on Facebook or MySpace (you don't need to be a member to do so). Better yet, says Vila, do it together: "Say, 'I understand that these days anything that's posted online is very tough to keep private. Why don't we Google you to check if there's anything that you don't want out there?'" Also Google a friend or two of his, to compare and contrast. "You can say, 'This person has chosen to have this stuff about her online — what do you think about it?'" says Vila. "It's an opportunity for you to discuss what are the right values for your family."

Word to the wise: Also step in if your child is using Twitter, the micro-blogging service where users post short updates, known as tweets. Many kids don't realize these are completely public, akin to posting on a virtual global bulletin board. Help your child click on the "Protect My Updates" setting to control which members can follow what she posts. And if a stranger starts following her updates, she can restrict that person's access by using the "Block" tool.

Mistake 2: Sharing Passwords

Two years ago, 15-year old Julia Pullman* shared her MySpace password with friends. A few weeks later, she got into an argument with her friends, who retaliated by logging on to her MySpace page, spreading rumors about her being promiscuous, and generally savaging her reputation. "They also posted nasty things about other students, as if in her voice," her mother says. "It was just brutal." Julia was shunned by her classmates and has not yet socially recovered from the incident. Now she skips lunch at school to avoid eating alone, and has deleted her MySpace page.

It's common for teens to share passwords, says Vila — sometimes because of peer pressure, sometimes simply for convenience. But once that happens, the friend can log on as your child — whether to play a prank, like changing a name or profile description (common among teens), or for more malicious purposes.

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