Monday, June 1, 2009

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace...What?

/PRNewswire/ -- MS -- It's no secret young people growing up today are more technologically advanced than older generations like the Baby Boomers. In those days, communicating with friends was done primarily by talking on the telephone, writing a note or speaking face-to-face. There was no e-mailing, text messaging, IM'ing (instant messaging) or posting comments on each other's personal Web pages.

In schools today, instead of just passing notes, students can send text messages on their cell phones and communicate online with their bff (best friends forever) or with people they don't know, and this makes it difficult for parents to monitor their child's online activities. In addition to e-mailing and text messaging, communicating via social networking sites is becoming more common for both older and younger generations. In fact, in January 2009 Facebook alone reported that they had 150 million active users. In addition, according to Common Sense Media, 55 percent of teens have an online profile on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.

"Social networking sites can be great resources for staying in contact with people, reconnecting with old friends, meeting people with common interests, and getting questions answered, but unfortunately not everyone who uses the Internet and social networking sites has honest intentions," said Jay Opperman, Senior Director of Security and Privacy at Comcast.

What does this all mean? It means that parents should: 1) become familiar with online social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace; and 2) talk to your children about the importance of being safe and smart while communicating online.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when talking to your teens about the Internet and social networks:

TIP 1 -- Choose your pictures wisely: Pictures can say a thousand words. If you decide to post a picture of yourself online, be very cautious about what you post.

"Do not use a picture that will embarrass you five years down the road because even if you delete the picture, it will never go away. What goes online, stays online," said Opperman. "Think about these questions: If I post this picture, could it prevent me from getting a scholarship or a job in the future? What if the person or persons I share my picture with, shares it with others?"

TIP 2 -- Don't talk to strangers and use privacy settings: Sometimes people aren't always who they say they are and the Internet provides an additional means of being anonymous. Remember, everyone in the world doesn't have your best interests at heart and some people are looking to prey on children and teens online. Social networking sites have privacy settings so you can control who can see your personal page. The settings can't protect you 100 percent, but they are helpful so make sure you set up a privacy setting so only your friends can see your page.

TIP 3 -- Keep your personal information personal: Don't share personal information such as your last name, parents' or siblings' names, phone number, address, social security number or where you like to hang out. People with dishonest intentions can use this information to find you or steal your identity.

TIP 4 -- Don't be a cyberbully: Don't bully people online or in person. You wouldn't appreciate a schoolmate or even a stranger posting embarrassing or harassing information about you or threatening you online so don't do that to someone else. Online, this is called cyberbullying, and now more and more states are passing anti-cyberbullying laws.

TIP 5 -- Go outside and stay active: Technology is fascinating and it keeps us connected in so many ways, but don't let the Internet disconnect you from other things that are important in life. Spend time with family and friends in person. Walk the dog, learn how to play an instrument, get involved in sports and other extracurricular after-school activities. Real life connections with family, friends and those most important to you should be one of your top priorities.

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