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Social Networking May Affect Kids’ Health

Report Urges Parents to Communicate and Participate When Kids Socialize Online

What Parents Can Do

One reason there isn’t better communication between kids and parents about social media, O’Keefe thinks, is that kids look like computer whizzes, and parents may equate technological prowess with social savvy.

“They forget that use of technology and the ability to handle the technical side, doesn’t mean they can handle the social side and all the nuances of technology,” she says. “That’s where parents and their life experience comes in.”

Talking is the place to start.

Key issues to bring up, the authors say, are privacy controls on sites and why they’re important; the kinds of pictures and messages that are appropriate, or not, to post; and the nature of advertising on social networking sites, which can masquerade as games or other kinds of entertainment.

It’s also important for parents to respect the age limits on sites like Facebook, which restricts use to kids over the age of 13, in line with federal privacy laws.

“If you have somebody who’s not 13 on a site for kids over 13, they’re served up content in a multitude of ways,” O’Keeffe says, “so they’re influenced by a bombardment of material and that’s going to influence their choices, how they think and how they act, and that has direct consequences on their health.”

“Then you add to it that their parents are knowingly letting them do it. That is huge, because it says to them, ‘You can lie here,’” she says, stressing that duplicity undermines parental authority.

The solution, she feels, is for parents to stand firm.

“There are rites of passage in life. You have to be 21 to have a drink, 18 to vote, 16 to get your learner’s permit, and in terms of Facebook, you have to be 13,” O’Keefe says.

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