SafeSocial: An Essential Tool for Parents
If your kids are active on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter or MySpace, the new AOL SafeSocial helps parents understand what their kids are doing on these sites without "friending" them or hovering over their shoulders. You can try it free for 5 days*, after which it's only $9.99 per month.
• Know where your kids have social networking accounts
• Find out more about their online "friends"
• See photos your children have posted -- and ones in which they've been "tagged"
• Get alerted to posts that contain trigger words about drugs or violence
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If you're an AOL member, we will bill you using the method of payment we have on file for your account. If not, it's easy to sign up with any email address.In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier befriended a boy called “Josh” on MySpace. According to news reports, after engaging in friendly communication, Josh then ended his contacts with Megan, claiming she was mean and that “the world would be a better place without you.” Megan then hanged herself. Further investigation into the matter revealed that “Josh” was in fact a fake profile that had been created by neighbors who knew Megan.
The case was splashed across TV screens and newspapers as horrified parents across the country came to realize the potential dangers of social-networking websites, where impostors, predators and bullies can pose risks to their children.
"Nora,” a Toronto-based mother whose tween daughter is a Facebook user, explains that she closely monitors her daughter’s activities online and frequently checks her posts and friends’ lists. Even so, Nora says, “Kids can use the computers at their friends’ homes to go on Facebook, or even those at the library, at school or on their cell phones, so other than constantly checking their messages and posts, there’s not much you can do.”
Maria Emami, the parent of a 13-year-old Facebook user, explains that social-networking is a “reality of life” for many tweens and teens, and it’s such an important communication tool that she believes schools should be responsible for teaching children about online safety. She draws parallels between parents’ disapproval of rock-and-roll 50 years ago and parents’ disapproval of social networking sites today: “The reality is, rock-and-roll was here to stay, and so are websites such as Facebook,” Emami says. The important thing is learning to set boundaries for your kids' online activities.
Safety programs for parents
In the great wide world of cyberspace, parents such as Emami and Nora need the reassurance that their children are conducting themselves safely online. Enter programs such as Net Nanny, SafeSocial.com and SafetyWeb.com, which allow parents to “watch” their children’s online activities and help prevent them from being exposed to inappropriate content.
SafeSocial, for example, monitors your child’s online friends by checking their information against several other websites to find out if a friend looks suspicious, or if, for example, the “friend” in question is actually an adult. In addition, SafeSocial scans the major social networks for posts involving your child that include trigger words like "drugs," "suicide" or "violence."
Net Nanny, on the other hand, is an Internet filter that can help prevent members of your family from being exposed to pornography or other content you deem inappropriate.
The importance of these programs is that they can alert parents to online predators, cyber-bullying or worrisome online discussions or activities in which a child is taking part.
Dangers of online activity
In addition to the dangers online predators pose, many parents also feel the need to monitor their children for other reasons as well. A Virginia parent we contacted says he closely monitors his son’s postings and online activities because “teenagers are impulsive….They often post tasteless or derogatory stuff about classmates, teachers and coaches. We've had to ask our son to remove some postings, usually complaints about teachers and their assignments. The second reason is security…It's critical to avoid posting information that identifies where you live or where you go to school, both in text and photos.”
He explains that his son had initially intended to write on his Facebook wall about where and when they were going on vacation, but his parents warned him not to because someone could read the post and find out that their house would be vacant.
Another reason to monitor kids online is because tweens and teens are frequently unaware of the consequences of their actions and statements. Emami recounts an incident in which her son joined the group “I hate Mrs. ‘X'” (the fictitious name of a school official). The school reprimanded her son and contacted the family to notify them that their son had joined a “hate group.” In another instance, her son who is on the football team was preparing for an upcoming game, and jokingly wrote on his Facebook wall that “We’re going to kill [the other team].” The post was then viewed by the parent of one of his Facebook contacts who interpreted it as a threat.
Taking necessary precautions
These examples drive home the point that most kids need some sort of supervision. In addition to talking to children about the realities of the online world, it’s also important to monitor their social-networking activities to avoid the possibility of potentially harmful interactions with strangers, or inappropriate discussions in which your child may be engaged.