By Susan Shankle, MSW, LISW-CP
Many thousands of teenagers have created personal web pages on social networking sites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com. Below are some common questions that parents have about these sites.
There are several ways to do this. First, ask your child nicely but firmly to see the MySpace page. The computer belongs to the adults in your family, not the children. If your child complains that you are invading privacy, have a discussion about how nothing on the World Wide Web is private. Not one thing. Your child really needs to understand that you are in charge of your home and all electronics in it.
If that doesn’t work, think about combinations of your child’s nicknames and dates of birth. Also listen to conversations your child has with friends. You may be able to easily pick up nicknames from those conversations.
Please work with your child to remove the account. Once you are logged into MySpace.com, click on ‘Account Settings’ and then click on ‘Cancel Account’. An email will be sent to the email address (the same one used as the login name) to verify Account Deletion.
If you do not receive the confirmation email, please remove all content from your child’s profile, and enter in the text ‘Remove Profile’ in the ‘About Me’. This lets us know that you have taken control of your child’s account. Please alert us with the URL to the profile in question, and we can remove the profile for you.
The internet can be a fun place for younger users as long as they are safe. We have an entire section dedicated to Safety Tips for parents (and our userbase!) to peruse. Please check them out! ”
Source: Question #20 on the MySpace.com Frequently Asked Questions page.
The key here is to know your child and understand your child’s developmental phase. Some isolating from family is normal as a child passes through puberty. Parents can get confused and may be a little overconfident. I have heard MANY parents say “My baby tells me everything”. That may have been true at age 10, but by 12 that has changed. Parents don’t always know when that important crossover has occurred.
If your child is spending more time with electronics than with real people, it may be time to reassess. Children and teenagers learn conflict resolution in real time, not from the instant messaging feature on your computer or violent video games.
This can be tricky as well. If your child is being bullied, he/she may not want to talk to you about it for fear of making matters worse. If your child seems more quiet and isolated than usual, there could be a problem. Make sure your lines of communication are open. That does not mean when you talk to your child you just lecture. It means you sit and listen. Then if you think your child is being bullied, enlist the school in helping solve the problem. Get proactive and fast.
Talking to Your Child About Sexual Predators Who May Be Online —excerpt developed for MSNBC as follow-up to the “To Catch a Predator” series:
Q. Do these men on the television program look like what you think a sexual would look like? Which one, if you passed him on the street would look most like your idea of a predator? Which one would look least like one? Why?
If your child asks questions like these, this could lead to a discussion about how some of the men, like the one who showed up naked, seemed more suspicious than others. Starting simple may put children at ease. It may also help children learn that predators can look like anyone. Participate in the conversation by identifying the ones you thought looked more suspicious than others, and point out the differences in your perspectives.
Q. Does your child know anyone who has ever been solicited for sex on the Net? What did he or she do?
Some children will answer this question, some won’t. Forcing the child to tell you is not the point. Creating a comfortable atmosphere for your child to be willing to discuss the subject IS the point. You are not asking the child if he or she has been solicited directly, just if they know someone who has. Questions like this one help the child begin thinking about the subject and formulate plans if it DOES happen. You are also making the point that’s it’s okay for the child to talk with you about it without repercussions.
Q. What are some things a child can do to keep safe?
Adults might be surprised at answers to this. Children will think of things that adults would completely miss. Give the children positive reinforcement (“Great idea!”) for suggestions. By doing this, adults continue to create an on-going comfort zone for the children to share information. Encourage children to have conversations on their own about this question.
Q. What can parents do to help keep their child safe?
Listen to what they say, make a list, put it on the fridge and DO IT, whatever it is, within reason. Revisit the list periodically and ask children if there’s anything they’d like to add or subtract.
Q. Let’s just say you know for a fact someone is stalking or harassing you. What would you do differently on the Web? Would you remove anything from your blog?
This should at least get the children thinking without getting into power struggles. You can also ask them to show you the places they visit online, including their own blogs. To ease potential tension in that conversation, consider giving the kids 24 hours warning — at least the first time — so they have time to clean up their sites before you see them. Subsequent site visits can be a surprise, but if this is your first conversation about the topic, it’s best to avoid a “gotcha” confrontation that will likely lead to less communication, not more.
© 2007 MSNBC Interactive