I’m very concerned about how the girls at my daughter’s school are using online forums, especially the personal information that can be viewed by strangers, crude language, and sexually suggestive photos and content. How should parents guide girls’ use of online forums?
J.S., San Francisco, CA
You’re not the only one feeling uneasy. According to a recent poll we conducted at Common Sense Media, 85 percent of parents think the Internet poses more risk for their kids than any other media type. That’s why setting social network guidelines for girls is so important.
It’s understandable why social networking sites are so popular with tweens and teens: They provide instant community, instant celebrity, and a handy way to try out new identities. But the risks of posting provocative material and personal information are formidable, such as the sexual solicitation of an estimated one in five kids. Here are some ways to take action.
*Educate yourself. Read our reviews of sites like Facebook for suggested age recommendations and content advisories. Join the sites yourself so you can get a clearer sense of what they’re really about (and learn how to create safe privacy settings).
*Set limits. We don’t recommend online social networking for kids in middle school or younger. It’s okay to limit younger girls’ friendships to people they know in the real world. If you allow online forum use, be clear with your daughter on what’s appropriate to post: no sexy poses, no pretend alcohol drinking, no shady language, no postings about parties or events that might identify them. This is about more than stranger danger: college admissions officers or potential employers could be checking their profiles.
*Check in. Make sure that your daughter knows she should tell you immediately if anyone says anything marginal or suggestive, and ask her occasionally if she has ever been emailed by a stranger. Ask to see her blog and friends list.
*Discuss other media, too. Keep having conversations about other media she likes, such as movies, TV shows, and videogames. We have reviews, articles, and tips at our website about all types of media to help your family make good decisions about online and other media use.
Kate Pavao is a freelance writer, editor, and member of Commonsense Media.