Computer safety is a concern for most parents, yet it can be difficult for parents to keep up with their children's internet safety and safety online. But when it comes to computer safety parents must be especially aware. Children are arriving on the social networking scene everyday, sometimes without their parents' knowledge or approval. While social networking sites require children to be at least 13 or 14 in order to establish a page, many children are finding their way to the sites anyway. In fact, some parents have been known to open pages for their younger children, in order to get around a site's policy.
There are also introductory networking sites that cater specifically to the tween market, such as Club Penguin and Webkinz. The bottom line is tweens want to be a part of the social networking scene, and expect to be allowed to participate. But Stacy Dittrich, a former law enforcement officer, author, and an expert in computer safety, says parents of tweens should be especially careful when it comes to online life and their tweens.
Enforcing Computer Safety
Here's what Dittrich has to say on the topic of tweens and social networking, and on enforcing children's internet and computer safety.
- The biggest misconception parents have in regards to social networking concerns predators. While about 5 percent of users who pose as tweens and other children are actually adults, the biggest issue concerning social networking and children has to do with cyberbullying. "Many of the problems that take place at school begin on a MySpace page or some other site," says Dittrich. "One student will talk trash about another online, and the next day there's trouble."
- Parents cannot rely on law enforcement when their child is confronted by a predator or another aggressive child. "Law enforcement resources are very limited, and in many cases there is no way to track who your child is connecting with, such as with online video games," Dittrich says. The best course of action is to prevent problems before they happen by explaining to your child that personal information should not be shared or published online.
- Sex predators are turning to online video games because it is so difficult to track them.
- There is absolutely no reason a tween should need or have a MySpace or Facebook page, says Dittrich. In fact, Dittrich is against them for any child under the age of 18. "There is absolutely no productive or positive outcome for anyone under the age of 18 to engage in social networking," says Dittrich. The drawbacks, however, include being subjected to harassment, sexual predators, and a lot of criticism.
- Parents don't know enough about social networking and computer safety to fully monitor their children or guide them appropriately. The solution, says Dittrich, is to educate yourself. Parents should make sure they know the pages their children are viewing online, and track them if necessary. "Take a class, read a book, or ask your child to sit down with you and show you where the children are going online and what they are saying about each other."
- Parents should put the computer in a centralized area, such as the kitchen, in order to keep up with their children's habits and enforce computer safety. "There is no benefit to having your child locked in her room for two hours by herself on her computer."
- Parents should take advantage of parental blocks that track a child's computer history, showing exactly where she's been online.
- Social networking sites such as Club Penguin are attractive to tweens largely because of the games and the cute avatars the children use to represent them in the penguin world. Keep in mind, however, that some of those cute penguin avatars might actually be adults, so children should never reveal any personal information about themselves, where they live, their phone numbers, or even their gender.