How to keep your teen safe on the Internet
Talking about the consequences of posting pictures or phone numbers on Facebook, rather than banning the technology entirely, is the best way to help teens use the Internet safely, a new consumer protection guide from the Federal Trade Commission says.
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But reacting too harshly – particularly by denying access to technology or using filters – is unlikely to work, and also denies the many positive aspects of new technology to increasingly-connected teenagers, they add.Skip to next paragraph
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“Teens whose parents are actively and positively involved in what their children are doing, both online and in the real world, are the ones who engage in less risky behavior online,” says Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for the Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet.
Cyber-predators not the main threat
She also cautions parents against being too paranoid. The cyber-predator threat that was hyped in much of the past decade is exceedingly rare, she notes. The biggest dangers kids face online are from peers who misuse information or harass others, or from their own poor judgment in posting images that later reach the wrong people.
“The entire conversation with young people has to be focused on ‘What are the potential harmful consequences?’” Ms. Willard says. “It’s not rule-based, it’s consequence-based.”
Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University in Dominguez Hills and author of “Me, MySpace and I,” agrees, and says that a lot of the issues today come from parents who are happy to let their kids be occupied by technology but never actively talk about it with them.
Talking to kids proactively – perhaps using a news story to raise the issue – is key, says Professor Rosen. “They don’t have the best decision-making abilities, and they’re just kids,” he says.
Those approaches are also emphasized in the FTC guide, which provides a glossary of terms and explicit information about cyber-bullying, sexting, file sharing, and other potential sources of problems. The guide also points to the positive elements of kids’ online communication and advises parents to start discussions young and keep communication channels open.
Net Cetera, the guide, “is value-neutral and caters neither to the ‘left’ nor the ‘right,’ but it encourages parents to communicate their own values to their kids,” Jon Leibowitz, the FTC chairman, said Wednesday in releasing the guide. “When parents are up front about their values and how they apply in the online world, kids will make more thoughtful decisions when they face tricky situations.”
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