By Hemanshu Nigam
It’s New Year’s Eve, and your teen is all decked out and ready for a big party. She’s got her iPhone, BlackBerry, or some other cell phone with a camera in her pocketbook. And she’s ready to roll. You’re glad she’s got these gadgets so you can get in touch with her. You tell her to call to check in, to let you know she got there safely, to ask for permission to stay later. She agrees. You give her a quick hug and run upstairs to get ready for your own party to celebrate the arrival of a new beginning. You even remember to put the new digital camera you got for Christmas by your purse so you don’t forget it.
Of course, you talked to your teen about not drinking, not driving too fast, and not staying out past curfew.
Did you chat with her about all the photos that she and her friends will take with those gadgets? Photos that might have her kissing another girl on a dare, doing a shot with her best (boy)friend, flashing for the camera as the new year rings in.
Did you chat with her about all the photos that she or her friends might want to put up on their MySpace or Facebook page?
Myspace, Facebook? That’s all that techie stuff the kids do … what will you say, what can you say?
Too often it seems too complicated to talk to your teens about online safety. After all, it’s the online world and they know it better than you do. But is it? Did you know how a car engine works, what the transmission does, or how an airbag gets deployed when the car bumps something at 30 mph? Yet, you got right in there and taught your teen how to drive. Correction, you taught your teen how to drive safely.
And that is exactly what we’re talking about – teaching your teen how to drive online safely. You’ve done it all your life – these lessons on safety. “Look before you cross, don’t talk to strangers, respect your friends and neighbors, don’t go anywhere alone”.
The world may have changed, but the lessons are still the same. Don’t stop the dialogue.
Here’s a way to start an online safety dialogue:
1. Start a Conversation
Talk to your kids about why they use MySpace, how they communicate with others, and how they represent themselves online. Recognize the importance of social networking in their daily lives, similar to that of cell phones, email, or instant messenger, and express an interest in understanding the role it plays.
2. Talk About MySpace and the Internet
* MySpace, like the rest of the online world, is a public space. Members shouldn’t post anything they wouldn’t want the world to know (e.g., phone number, address, IM screen name, or specific whereabouts).
* Remind them not to post any photos that could embarrass them in the future or expose them to danger. Although MySpace is public, teens sometimes forget that the information and photos they post are accessible to others. A good way to explain it — tell your teens they should avoid posting anything they wouldn’t be willing to share in front of a school assembly.
3. Remind Teens to Be Cautious
* Just as in the offline world, people aren’t always who they say they are. Remind your teens to be careful about adding strangers to their friends list. It’s fun to connect with new MySpace friends from all over the world, but members should be cautious when communicating with people they don’t know.
* Encourage teens to be themselves, but to exercise the same basic safety principles they do in the physical world. They wouldn’t chat with a stranger at the mall or give someone they don’t know their cell phone number. Remind them that reckless online behavior can be just as dangerous.
* They should talk to you if they want to meet an online friend in person, and if you think its safe, any meeting should take place in public, with friends or a trusted adult present.
Remember, you’re the parent in the offline and online worlds. You can do it.