What is a social networking site?

Social networking sites are sites that exist purely for people to connect and socialize. In recent years, sites such as MySpace, Xanga, and Facebook have grown in popularity, especially with the younger generation. Preteens, teens, and young adults are flocking to the internet in never before seen numbers to spend their time interacting with their friends.

Social networking sites are free to join. Members get their own page that they can customize with their own pictures, text, video, audio, and HTML coding. They can then build a list of “friends”, which may be people that they know in real life or people that they have only met online. They can interact with these friends, send messages, and leave comments. These actions form an online social network. Groups of people who share common interests can interact online, without ever meeting in person.

As the social networking phenomenon grows, it is becoming more important than ever before for parents to know where their children are going online and who they are interacting with. Your preteen or teenager may be spending time with large numbers of people, some of whom are strangers, without you ever getting the chance to approve of the friendships. More and more runaways state that they left home to meet someone that they met through a social networking site. Online relationships are very real, and it’s easier to confide in someone that you’ve never met face to face.

People behave differently in groups, and to your teenager, social networking sites are one big group of friends. Do you know how your child is acting when they hang out with their online friends? These relationships should be as closely supervised, if not more closely supervised, as their real life friendships. Otherwise, you have no idea how your child could be behaving on the internet. They could be posting provocative pictures of themselves, personally identifying information, or details of sexual encounters. They could be interacting with adults posing as other teens. If your child uses a social networking site, you need to know about it and set clear guidelines and rules.

Take the time to research the sites that your children use. Learn their privacy policies, and be sure that your child takes advantage of any privacy filters or age limits that are offered. Be sure that they actually know the people that they are adding to their friends list. Be proactive and spend the time it takes to keep your child safe online – educate yourself about social networking sites.

Have a great day!