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One source estimates that 20% of children who use the Internet are propositioned by an adult while online. Many of these children didn’t realize that the person they were interacting with was a whole lot older than them.

Is the solution keeping your teen age children off the Internet?

Well, let’s not panic.

The truth is that online communities are here to stay and have a lot to offer. And social networking is such an important part of many kids’ lives that any attempt to eliminate it will likely drive it underground where you’ll be unable to influence it.

So a better course is to teach and re-teach all the personal safety stuff you teach your four-year-old. “Don’t talk to strangers” is still a good idea, but older kids online need to know how to identify a dangerous stranger pretending to be just another kid. Older kids need to know what information is safe to share in a public space like an online forum. And kids need to know how to move safely from online conversation to in-person conversation over a Pepsi at the mall.

Pay attention not only to “regular” social media sites like Facebook but also to video gaming sites and other forums. The expansion of social media in the past few years means that your child may be connected to others through media you know nothing about. Realize too that some new sites permit anonymous postings, which is an open invitation to cyber bullying.

Keep in mind that social media sites have age limits for a reason. Don’t enable a child’s participation in social media by helping her lie about her age to get an account. At the same time, keep on top of social media use by children who are old enough to have their own accounts legally. This includes their email accounts. You may have learned how to identify and remove spam messages and you may be aware of the danger of clicking on unsolicited links, but your children may not.

Keep  up with the tech world yourself. If you use social media you’ll have a better idea of the hazards your child may face and you’ll be more credible to your kid when you offer advice.  A great site from the Washington State Attorney General provides helpful information for teens online – information that will help you realize just how much kids might not know about online interactions.

The worry we have about children’s social media use is a worry that they will get into situations they are unprepared to handle. Talk with your kids about using caution online and keep the lines of communication open at your house.

You want to know what’s going on. You want to be the first to know if the Internet turns into a monster.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

Does your small child have an Internet presence right now? Is he featured on a website, are his pictures posted in a public spot somewhere, or does he star in a YouTube video? An astonishing number of infants and little kids are already public figures, thanks to their parents. Maybe your child is one of them.

And that could be a problem. Christopher Robin, the boy in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, was the real son of the author. As an adult, he said he felt his childhood had been exploited. He wrote, “It seemed to me almost that my father had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and left me nothing but empty fame.” Of course, you don’t intend to sell books using your child as the main character but what about daily or weekly posts featuring your little one? Aren’t you using your child as the main character in your presentation of your own life?

Goodness knows Facebook and other sites would be a lot less interesting without pictures of cute babies and videos of their antics. Certainly using YouTube, Flickr, and other public sites is a convenient way to store media and to share them with friends and family. But at some point a line is crossed. That point might be an age or it might be a type of content. Sharing the details of your baby’s first bath is one thing, but sharing the same child’s bathing habits (or lack of them) at age nine is entirely another. Be aware of that line. Posting the details of your child’s life is something you should do only with the greatest hesitation. This is not your life to share.

Which leads us to the more common complaint about kids’ relationship to computers: that computers are dangerous portals to child exploitation. They certainly are.  At the same time, computers are marvelous tools for thinking and creative expression. We don’t want to over-react. We don’t want to restrict computer use to protect our children to such an extent that they (or we) live in the modern equivalent of a log cabin. But stopping child exploitation starts at home. Don’t exploit your child by posting her daily life for everyone who surfs by to see.

The time to start modeling safe Internet use is now and it starts with how you portray your children online. Begin by keeping your child’s face and stories to yourself, sharing them only with friends and family. Don’t be the first to exploit your child.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.