According to a 2010 Pew Internet Project study, nearly three fourths of American teenagers use social networking sites, with Facebook being the most popular by far. But some parents are still skeptical of the site; 55 percent of parents discourage their kids from making a social media profile, according to a recent study by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that analyzes digital and traditional media.
But parents can set reasonable guidelines with their teens to keep them safe online, says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor of Common Sense Media. "Our position is that parents shouldn't fear social media," she says. "Kids are embracing these technologies. As a parent, it's part of your responsibility to engage with them." Here are some of her hints to help your child safely use Facebook.
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1. Be aware: Parents should know whether their child has a Facebook page or not. "They should have a good understanding of what types of things their kids are posting publicly," she says.
2. Help your child manage privacy settings: Knorr recommends that parents sit down with their child as they choose privacy settings on the site. Make sure your child's profile isn't publicly searchable on Google, that settings showing your child's location are turned off, and that photos are private or visible by friends only.
"Parents should learn what those privacy settings mean and discuss why it's important to keep some things private." Facebook often changes its privacy rules, so check in frequently, she says.
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3. Don't embarrass them: "Parents need to understand that social networking in today's world is how kids experiment with their own identity. It's a normal developmental stage," she says. "I think parents should try to refrain from commenting, because you may set up a dynamic where your kid will block you [on Facebook], and you might not know about it."
4. Speak up: If you do see something on your teen's Facebook page that could damage his or her reputation or put them in danger, talk to them about it—face to face. "We're so used to communicating electronically," she says. "But there are a lot of conversations that are important to have in person."