Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Concern for Teens

As a parent (in the near future), teacher, administrator and social networker, I have been listening closely to all of the recent news about how teens use social networking sites to interact with their friends and how they are getting themselves into trouble on these sites. What can we do to prevent these problems from occurring and help teenagers before they get themselves into trouble? We need be sure that our students are safe.
For those of you that are not involved with any type of social networking site or are unaware of some of the current problems facing teens as they "chat" with "friends"... here are the basics that surround my concerns.

  • Teens are getting on social networking websites and interacting with a variety of people, some are friends, some are enemies, some are complete strangers.
  • Teens are sharing pictures of themselves (sometimes inappropriate) and these pictures can get them the wrong kind of attention from friends, strangers and future employers!
  • Teens are not following basic safety guidelines to protect themselves from strangers which can lead to sexual assaults or online pornography.
  • Teenagers are acting inappropriately by sharing naked, drunk, and other incriminating photos of themselves or friends, as well as speaking inappropriately. If a future employer, college admissions director, or other person interested in the teen, looked at their website they could find many reasons to doubt the integrity of the teenager.
Websites, schools, parents and other groups have established guidelines for teenagers and other users for many of these social networking sites to help protect teens but they don't seem to be working as well as they should. Although there are not really debatable sides to this issue, many parents are having discussions and arguments with their children in regards to these guidelines and the safety of their children. Teens want, and believe they have a right to, their "privacy" and parents want to protect their children from themselves as well as enemies or predators. This often leads to teenagers being secretive and hiding the sites they are using or the time they spend on the computer from their parents. Once you break one rule it becomes easier to break another. Here are some of the suggested safety guidelines I found on a few websites that parents should incorporate into discussions with their children:
  • Use a Password that would not be easily detected/guessed.
  • Use privacy settings...restrict access to people you really know!
  • Think of a creative screen name that would make it hard for strangers to identify who you are and where you live.
  • Do not trust anyone that you don't personally know.
  • Do not post anything you wouldn't want your parents, principal, future employer, etc. to see.
  • Don't write anything that you wouldn't say in front of a group of people. The computer is not a shield.
  • Posts are forever! Anything you write now may be accessed later.
  • Check what your "friends" write or post about you.
  • Ask/have friends check what you are writing/posting about them.
Most importantly...

  • It's not an invasion of privacy if you are putting it out there for others to see!

I am concerned for teens because it seems that they are not truly listening to the guidelines being set or taking the risks seriously. It is important for parents, schools and other teens to educate these children about the possible risks and help them to truly understand the problems that can arise from a picture or discussion with friends. One of the best ways to do that is by talking with teens about real experiences that other teenagers have gone through as a result of inappropriate internet usage. This can be done through speaking engagements or searching the internet and news for recent events other teenagers have experienced and using every bad piece of news as a learning experience. It is so unfortunate that it comes down to that but we have to get through to these kids somehow. Any ideas???

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