Facebook. Twitter. Social networking. You've most likely heard these terms from your kids. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 55% of teens ages 12-17 have created an online profile, and 48% visit a social networking site at least once a day, so these terms are becoming part of everyday lingo. However, if you are like most parents, you probably have only the vaguest idea of what these sites are all about. Sure, you know your kids have a "profile," and you may even know your children use these sites to keep in touch with friends. But is that all? Or is there more going on with these "social networking" sites than you realize?
For many kids and teens, the whole idea of having a profile on a social networking site is to keep in touch with friends. The user creates a profile that enables her to invite others to be her friends. Your child is able to add personal information to her profile, and this may include her home address, cell phone number, and pictures. In addition, your child has the opportunity to post her likes, dislikes, and interests. To help users to create their own online identity, most sites have areas for posting favorite television shows, musical preferences, videos, and hobbies. The user also has the ability to send messages, share files, and comment on other users' profiles. Unless certain privacy settings are activated, most networking sites allow anyone to view users' profiles.
These sites also give anyone the ability to invite your child to be an online friend, and some kids and teens make it their goal to add as many friends to their profile as they can, whether or not they know them. Social networking sites give a whole new meaning to the phrase "friends of friends," and for some it becomes a popularity contest. A user may accept friend invites from strangers simply because he wants to add one more friend to his friend list. Once a user is accepted as a friend, he can view anything that may be posted.
This may sound like it's all fun and games, but online networking sites can pose many dangers that children may not recognize. Your child may think he knows someone, but the reality is that the person sitting on the other end of the computer may be a total stranger.