The very thought of "cyber" friends may produce negative images in the minds of parents. As with many issues of parenting, this is another area where parents need to gather more information and monitor what their teen does.
Web sites such as MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster are social networking Web sites. These Web sites have a wide appeal for teens with the number of users growing daily. Social networking Web sites combine many Internet features into one: blogs (Web logs, which are like an online diary or journal), personal Web pages, instant messaging, the latest news in pop culture about music groups or hot new products, online chats, user forums and even the "classifieds."
Parents and caregivers need to know something about social networking sites. Check out the Web sites below to experience what these look like and how they work. Look for what kinds of information people are posting, including age, interests and photos. Considers what impression the information conveys.
Although many of the social networking Web sites may appeal more to a specific group, these generally are public Web sites. That means people of all ages, interests and backgrounds can and do access the Web sites.
Social networking Web sites pose risks and unintended consequences about which both parents and teens need to be concerned.
Safety is first and foremost. There are a number of cases where sexual predators have been able to identify and locate children and teens through the personal information that is posted.
Information the teen thought would only be of interest to their friends can get in the hands of others with negative results. For example, news about a friend's personal life goes to others who use it to harass or bully the person.
Employers find information about the person's past as they look for a job.
Inappropriate information might be posted that leads computer hackers to alter the person's Web page or hack into their computer.
More next week on social networking and your teen. For more information, stop in your local extension office.
My source for this week's column is http://www.parenting.umn.edu/programs/familiesWithTeens/teenTalk/index.htm