How to Protect Your Children on Social Networking Sites

Most parents remember the television commercials when they were growing up that stated, "It is 8:00 p.m. Do you know where your children are?" In those days it was a lot easier to keep track of your children's whereabouts, what they were doing, and with whom.

In the age of the Internet, parenting involves more than just knowing where your children are. The parents of today have to worry about a tech-savvy generation that has the capability of making friends across the world from their room instead of next door or across town.

Social networking sites are designed to attract children as young as age 5 to adults. These sites are a rapidly growing trend with the younger generation and the norm for communicating and making friends online. Along with the trend comes the issue of keeping your children safe online. While there are parental controls you can set on your PC and software that allows you see what your child is viewing when you are away from the computer, there are a few basics that you should talk with your children about before allowing them to go online.

General Tips You Should Discuss with Your Children

  • Privacy Settings: Social networking sites provide a way for users to make their page private. People who wish to have access to the page have to be invited by the owner of the page. Discuss the importance of keeping their page private and show them how to use these settings. Make sure they understand how online predators work. If you are not sure, there is a host of educational information online and community parent organizations that offer online safety seminars.
  • Generic Username: Encourage your child to use a generic username that does not reveal their gender or any information related to their interests.
  • Check the Privacy Policy: Check the privacy policy on the social networking site that your child is using. Under the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, the site is required by law to obtain your consent before allowing a child under the age of 13 to post information online. Additionally, read the privacy policy carefully because a lot of times there is fine print that permits the website to use information about your child for other purposes.
  • Keep Personal Information Private: In addition to making their social networking page private, make sure your child understands the importance of considering the consequences before posting any kind of information anywhere online. A lot of children are under the impression if they post information online, only their friends can view it. Make sure they understand that the whole world can see it if it is posted outside of their private page.
  • Restrict Access: Use the parental controls on your PC to restrict your child's access to the Internet. You can use many of the controls to restrict inappropriate subject matter, as well as other places you do not want your child to access. If they have a cell phone, there are restrictions available with most cell phone plans. Talk with your child so they understand why you are using restrictions.

If you suspect that your child is uncomfortable with a recent online encounter, encourage them to discuss it with you and if necessary, report the incident to a law enforcement official.

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Spyware has many ways of getting onto your computer, such as:

When you download programs - particularly freeware, or peer-to-peer sharing programs.

More covertly, spyware can install itself just by you visiting certain sites, by prompting you to download an application to see the site properly.

ActiveX controls. These pesky spyware makers will prompt you to install themselves while using your Internet browser