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Although the Internet may feel safe, anonymous and impermanent, actually the opposite is true. What teens don’t often realize is that what gets posted on the Internet, stays on the Internet. The online world for a teen is “Very much about confessing, talking about personal things to an invisible audience,” says Anastasia Goodstein, author of Totally Wired: What Your Teen is Really Doing Online. “Who knows who it is, but everyone is in that confessional booth with their video camera. When people talk about the generation gap, they often talk about this sense of privacy. The younger generation, because they’ve grown up this way, is much more comfortable putting it out there. They’re creating their own sort of reality show about themselves on their sites.”

    While social networking sites are not inherently bad—after all, they provide a place for teens to meet, keep in touch, and hang out, a sort of virtual mall or pizza joint—parents need to be aware of how they work. If not, says Dr. Kaplan, “The end result is that as a parent, I don’t know what my kid knows. We are already so far behind them it’s frightening. Most of us don’t know what Myspace is, so how can we control what our kids are doing on it? The best message is to talk to them proactively, before they join these sites.”

Tips for Parents:

   Begin conversations about Internet safety as soon as you allow your kids on the Internet. You can use block filtering and monitoring for kids age 6-9 to prevent them from going on to a porn site, for example. But once kids are 12, 13, or 14, they know how to get around “Net Nanny” type programs and turn them off, and how to change browser history, so you need to have those conversations—the sooner, the better.

   Keep the computer in a central space in your house. (When your kids are working on something interesting, be sure to comment on that too.) “You need to understand the technology your child is using, and you need to set up ground rules,” says Dr. Kaplan. Night time is often where the planning of dangerous liaisons happens, when teens are online. “We probably see a kid a month here at McLean who has run away with someone they met online. The important thing is that none of this stuff—computers, cells, iphones—should be in their bedroom.” If you have a child who engages in risky behavior, insist on getting their passwords and “spot checking” their profiles. As a parent, you need to factor in your child’s personality and then decide how closely you will monitor their online activities.

   One way to have a conversation about social networking sites: You can ask your teen to help you set up your profile. “They’ll roll their eyes and act like they can’t believe how dumb you are, but they’ll be secretly pleased that you know they’re good at it,” says Goodstein. Click on privacy settings together and make sure your kids know how to set their default settings from public to private. “If you go on Myspace and find that you or your teen have set your profile to ‘public,’ that’s a great teachable moment. Then you can have the conversation: that the college recruiter can find it, future employers can look at it, anyone can see your profile.” Be sure to talk about what’s appropriate to post, and what’s not.

   People should never, under any circumstances, post personal information like social security numbers, telephone numbers or their address on a profile. This makes them easy targets for phishers, scammers and identity thieves.

   Don’t ever share passwords with anyone: not best friends, boyfriends or girlfriends. There have been cases where the relationship has gone sour and people have gotten revenge through a Myspace or Facebook profile, by posing as the person with whom they have a grudge.

   Let your kids know that the computer keeps a record of online exchanges and where they originate from on the hard drive—even though it looks as if the message “disappears.” Tell your child that they should use the same language online that they would in face-to-face communication. They should never say anything rash or threatening because the emails and instant messages can be downloaded and the child can get into real trouble.

   Teens need to know that they can’t assume everyone online is who they say they are. They should always report any inappropriate material or conversations immediately to their parents and to the social networking site.

Navigating A How-to Guide for Parents

Myspace bills itself as “the place for friends.” While most of the activity that takes place on the website is harmless, many teens are using it as a place to fill a void, feel popular, and hook-up with other users, called “friends.”’s privacy policy states: “MySpace members can view each others' profiles, communicate with old friends and meet new friends on the service, share photos, post journals and comments, and describe their interests…users' full names are never directly revealed to other members.” To better understand how the website and others like it work, take a virtual tour and familiarize yourself with its features as soon as possible. Here are the simple steps for getting onto Myspace, creating a profile, and searching for “friends’” profiles:

   Go to

   Click on “Sign Up” in the top right corner of the screen.

   Fill out the online form. You will need to provide an email address, first and last name, password, country, and postal code.

   To look for other profiles on the site, simply click on “Search” and type in a name. There are other ways to find people, as well. According to the website, MySpace allows users to search for other members using first and last names, email addresses, schools attended or companies where users may have worked. You can also search through the “Find a Friend” tool, which allows you to search via “display name,” which is the user’s screen name or “handle.”

If you find your child’s profile online, you need to talk with them immediately about the possible consequences of posting their personal information and photos online. Says Dr. Kaplan, “The whole idea here is to let the child know that the Internet is ‘public domain’ and that they do not have the privacy or anonymity they think they do.”

- Taken from an article by Elisabeth Wilkins, Empowering Parents Editor

How to Talk to Your Teen about Internet Safety