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