Tangled Web: Internet Caution for Parents

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source: Pete Prodoehl

Oh, what a tangled web was penned long before the Internet existed, but it’s an apt description for the lures and pitfalls that can trap preteens posting on social networks. We interviewed Detective Rich Wistocki, a veteran police investigator and parent educator, about online safety concerns.

PL: What should parents know about allowing preteens to use accounts on social networks?

Wistocki: Adults and children should not be connected to other online. You should be connected to your own children, but not others’. There is too much content on adult pages that should not be shared with kids.

PL: Why are kids under 13 restricted from social networks such as Facebook?

Wistocki: Many things can happen online that kids under 13 do not know how to handle. They typically include cyber bullying, predators, and exposure to adult content.

Predators have many tricks for connecting with kids online. Unsuspecting children want more friends, and they are more likely to accept anyone into their network.

PL: Preteens often post their school and activity schedules with captions like, “Check against your schedule and comment.” Dangerous?

Wistocki: Very dangerous! [Those posts] are alerting their entire network to where they are and when. Kids on average can have hundreds of connections and not all of them are trustworthy. Who knows who they are sharing that information with?

Parents should also note that if security settings aren’t set to “private,” kids are sharing that schedule with the World Wide Web.

PL: If parents suspect their preteens have created Facebook accounts without permission, how should they intervene?

Wistocki: I always recommend that parents [approach the subject] in a positive way prior to accusing them. You could say, “I opened a Facebook account. I don’t know anything about it. Can you show me?” Then, observe [kids’] behavior. Do they know all about it? Ask them how. Remember, you know your child best, so go with your gut. If [he] is too young, remind [him] of the rules and deactivate the account. If kids are old enough and you approve, discuss your rules and expectations for using social media.

A great family contract for social media is here:

http://www.truecare.com/sites/default/files/FamilySocialMediaAgreement.pdf

ggmathisG.G. Mathis is a mom, and preteen Bible study teacher. On days the Internet service is working, she writes and posts from Duenweg, Missouri—population 1,051.

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