If you have teenagers or young adults in your family or friend circle then it’s time you sat up and paid attention to their Internet surfing habits. Teenagers and young adults are considered as heavy users of the Internet who spend hours every week surfing the Internet, doing their home assignments, playing online games and socializing with their friends.
Statistics shows that the most popular websites used by teenagers are social networking sites, instant Messaging sites, chat rooms, and file sharing networks, thus making it easier for them to share personal information with a larger group of people. But this behavior also outs them at a greater risk of their personal information being shared or made available in a way that may have harmful consequences for them.
All social networking sites need setting up of profiles that store personal information that may include information like name, address, school or college name, birth date, personal phone number, government identity number, photos and videos, credit card and banking details. Certain websites may also track shopping habits or preferences, and any information about the users life, likes and dislikes.
Another point to note is that most social networks are open to access and participation to some degree by a number of different people: it could be site owners, marketers, friends, other network participants, college officials, prospective employers, and government agencies and hence what information you share is very important. Sex offenders, cyber bullies and other on-line predators may also be on the site. There are enough instances where young adults have been a prey to these predators that don’t reveal their true age or identity and befriend innocent teenagers with intention to harm or cheat them.
Phishing scams are another imminent danger for vulnerable teenagers; this is where criminals send out spam or pop-up messages in an attempt to lure victims into sharing their personal and financial information on fake websites.
Knowing the nuances of the internet and social networking sites, elders and parents have a responsibility of protecting and educating their teenagers and young adults on Social networking sites. We all have a right to privacy, for ourselves and for our family especially children and that would mean the right to decide who has access to this personal information and how that information is being used.
What can parents and concerned elders do?
o To start with Parents must understand that a social network in reality is not appropriate for young children. Parents can consider making social networking sites off bounds to children and teenagers below age of 14. Many social networking sites prohibit anyone younger than 14 from using them but it’s common for youngsters to lie about their ages to gain access so it’s important to determine if your children have illegal profiles and counsel them.
o In order to find out if your kids have an account on any social networking sites parents must show their concern in a loving manner. And if they do have an account then they need to have a heart to heart talk with them on things like which sites do they use, who are they connected with, how much time do they spend on these sites and how they need to protect themselves.
o Parents need to teach their kids to keep their information private by making use of the Privacy settings on the social networking sites. If needed Parents should set up an account for themselves and learn more about how Privacy settings can be incorporated in their profiles. Every social networking site has its own privacy policies and it’s worth investing time in studying and understanding how seriously the website takes privacy of user information.
o Parents should also request a tour of their youth’s profile and check on their connected friends. If their children are not comfortable in sharing their profile then some time frame must be established between which they can clean up their profile and give you a tour.
o Parents should also load antiphishing software which recognizes or blocks fake or phishing web sites. Also educate your children that they should not give out any sensitive details like username and password information to any website as it could be a phishing scam.
Tips for that parents and elders can give teenagers and young adults
o Only add and invite the friends you have in the real world to be your friends on-line. Sometimes you may feel some social pressure to accept when you get a friend request. But if you don’t know the person it is often the safer choice to decline even if it feels awkward to decline someone’s request to be your friend.
o Do not post images, videos or notes of yourself that you wouldn’t want to share with your parents, grandparents, teachers or elders that you know.
o It’s always better to check with your friends and seek their permission before posting images of them. Make sure you tag them and let them know what has been posted about them and let them decide the extent of their exposure on your profile.
o If you are one of those that post many photos to your profile page and if asking each individual maybe be unrealistic then make sure that you honor any friend’s request to remove a specific photo of him or her from your page.
o If a friend is taking pictures or videos at a party or an event, and you don’t want pictures of you to appear online be affirmative in asking the person not to upload the pictures on their profile.
o Sex is a topic that you should avoid discussing at all cost on the Internet, particularly with people you do not know. If someone begins a conversation that has sexual overtones or is perverse in some way, immediately stop the conversation and sign out, you may choose to block the person as well. Don’t ever try to play along as it is not a good idea, even if it is meant to be a joke. You maybe sending wrong signals to the offender that you are ok with this kind of behavior.
o Never agree to meet someone in person that you have met only on the Internet. If you do arrange such a meeting then meet them at a public place in broad daylight. Making sure you inform some of your whereabouts and when you will be back is a good idea.
o Be open to talk with your parents, older siblings and elders about your Internet use and ask questions if you have any.
o Though as younger generation you may know more about technology than your parents, your parents understand better in terms of human interactions and they are in a position to advice better on what is right and safe for you.
o Don’t share the personal information of other people that connected on your network unless you have their permission.
There is no doubt in my mind that social networking is here to stay. For example some months back Facebook had reached a milestone of 150 million active users worldwide, half of which signs in daily. If Facebook were a country, it would be the eighth most populated in the world, just ahead of Japan, Russia and Nigeria. Closer to home in Singapore it’s estimated that a higher double digit percentage of population has a social media profile and a huge percentage of these users are teenagers. The fundamental truth behind the success of social media is that people want to connect and be heard by their friends, colleagues etc.
But we must be reminded that every good tool can be misused and that we must use the same judgment and wisdom that we practice in our off-line life to our on-line world. The same parenting that is needed in the real world works is needed in the online world as well. It’s very easy to be under the illusion that whatever you do online is private and that one can get away with it. But case after case it shows that the opposite is true. The Internet is not as private as we think it is. Anything we do on the internet is like a permanent mark on our record for future scrutiny by prospective colleges and employers. So let’s be judicious before we press the submit button on any content that we upload on our social profiles. The last but not the least is that these new internet tools are not here to replace the conventional ways of interaction but only to compliment it. So protect yourself and your loved ones on the Internet and harness the true power of technology to transform your life.
Social networking sites can be a great way for teenagers and young adults to connect with their friends and build their social skills but it has to be used judiciously and with advice and counseling from Parents. Parents will always have the best intentions for their off springs and you need to help them in protecting you online.