Have you seen your kids’ Facebook pages lately? What about your children’s tweets? If not, like more than half of parents surveyed, you’re probably too busy to monitor your children’s social networking or you don’t want to infringe on their privacy. But either justification could harm your children and teens.

When I go on Facebook as a concerned parent, I regularly see photos of scantily dressed kids mimicking pornographic poses. I know the full name, address and cell number of a boy who hides a bong under his bed. I have muddled through lewd videos and read children’s foul language over and over. Does anyone else besides me wonder where civility went? No, my kids aren’t perfect. I know this because I check their sites. And yes, kids will be kids. However, if their parents aren’t watching, who’s to keep these kids from permanently broadcasting what they have yet to understand might hurt them?

There is a much larger threat created by our children’s inappropriate postings than being denied ideal jobs. These kids delude themselves into believing their postings will gain them respect among peers. Yet in actuality, inappropriate posts cause kids to lose respect from their peers, other onlookers and even the kids themselves.

If I can’t scare you by forecasting the loss of your child’s self-esteem should inappropriate posts ensue, maybe I can with some hard cold facts. I recently attended a workshop for parents on Internet safety led by Warren County’s former prosecutor, Rachel Hutzel. One of her male investigators made an online site while posing as a 14-year-old girl. In two days, 12 grown men who were pretending to be teenagers were requesting to friend this “girl.”

Statistics Every Parent Should Know

  • Cyber bullying and victimization begin as early as 2nd grade. This type of abuse has been shown to cause poor grades, low self-esteem, depression and in some cases suicide.
  • Online exchange of sexually explicit content typically begins in middle school.
  • Porn has become a major presence in the lives of our youth. Some studies show that one in three boys are heavy porn users. Pornography addiction is a crippling disease and should not be taken lightly.
  • Over half of all teens have given out personal information online to someone they don’t know, and 16 percent are willing to meet these strangers.
  • One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly use the Internet admits to receiving an unwanted sexual solicitation. Only 25 percent of these teens told a parent or adult.
  • Ninty-thousand sex offenders were identified and removed from Myspace in 2009, and those were only the offenders dumb enough to use their real names. (My advice on Myspace accounts: Permanently terminate them.)

In a nutshell, former prosecutor Hutzel pointed out that the technology surrounding the Internet and the amount of people using it illegally are growing more rapidly than laws and law enforcers can keep up with. Such technology is growing at an alarming rate, making parental involvement more crucial than ever. One of the Internet safety speakers said that kids don’t have a chance without us. With solemn conviction, the experts said to err on the side of safety.

Ways to Protect Your Children and Teens

  • If you fall into the I-don’t-even-know-how-to-turn-on-my-computer club, it’s time to get out before you’re the last member! Take a computer class, ask a friend to teach you how to navigate the Internet or stay up late and teach yourself.
  • If your kids have Facebook accounts, get one as well and friend them. If your kids use Twitter, get an account too and follow them. There are numerous social networks, each with their own risks. For example, Twitter has a more public forum, and kids can get a constant flow of quick links— many to pornographic sites.
  • Be transparent and let your kids know what you are doing. This instills a mutual trust. Also, kids who realize their parents are watching are less likely to stray from the rules and make risky or objectionable posts. My kids are Facebook friends with their aunts, uncles and grandparents.
  • Be sure to have your kids’ passwords and check their sites. However, your children should not give their passwords to anyone else. If your kids refuse to give you their passwords, refuse to let them use the computer. They’ll scream and shout. Welcome to parenthood in its full glory.
  • Be aware that kids can have multiple accounts on multiple services. Sixteen percent of kids have created secret e-mail addresses or profiles. Every once in a while, type the full name, phone number and other identifying information of each of your children into a search engine.
  • Realize that kids can access the Internet in many ways, including on most mobile phones, game systems and MP3 (music) players. Your children might not have theses devices, but their friends likely do. Restrict Internet access from kids’ bedrooms to keep it a public activity.
  • Tell your kids that it is against the law to possess a nude photo of a minor, even of themselves. Confirm they understand this. I don’t even let my kids post photos of themselves in their swimsuits as it draws the wrong kind of attention.
  • Explain to your kids that they should not list where they go to school on their profiles.
  • Remind your children not to befriend anyone they do not know. An unknown friend of a friend is still a stranger.
  • Lastly, remember that no laws or parental controls can protect your children more than teaching them critical thinking skills and civil behavior. Your example teaches best.

Many parents trust their kids. I trust mine also…to be kids. I honestly feel that my kids are good kids and they’re wise. Still, the part of the brain that applies reasoning doesn’t fully develop until age 25.

When our kids were learning how to safely cross the street, we didn’t just send them outside and figure they’d be safe. At first, we walked with them. Well, it’s time to walk with our kids again. Worried about how all of this intrusive policing might affect your friendship with your children? Remember that the ultimate reward of being our children’s everlasting friends is dependent on us first being their teachers.

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