'Don't talk to strangers in public."
"Don't open the door to someone you don't know."
"Don't give out personal information to someone who calls on the
Kids learn these real world rules as soon as they can walk and
talk. Most parents want to extend the same kind of common
sense rules to the Internet, but it is complicated. What spaces are
public? Who is a stranger? What kind of information makes children
Social networking sites like Facebook were supposed to make the Internet a
little safer by creating a community of people who knew each other,
but it hasn't quite worked out that way.
A recent Common Sense Media survey, fielded by The Benenson
Strategy Group, examined how social networks are affecting kids and
families. The survey of both teens and parents found that
unbeknownst to their parents, many teens are engaging in bullying
and risky behavior online.
Percent of children pretending to be an adult while chatting
with someone online:
Percent of children sending or posting naked or semi-naked
photos or videos of themselves or others:
Percent of children signing onto someone else's social
networking account or profile using their password, without them
According to Ryan Naraine, a security expert from Kaspersky
Labs, these sites create "a facade of trust where end users feel
comfortable enough within their network to click on every link they
receive and post the most intimate details of their lives." In his
white paper, Friend or Fraud, he points out that the comfort level
many people feel on social networking sites makes it very easy for
criminals to "manipulate these trusted networks for malicious
The best way to protect kids is to teach them to protect
themselves. That isn't really feasible for children under 13, who
simply aren't sophisticated enough to make good decisions about who
can be trusted. Their online interactions should be limited to
virtual playground sites like Poptropica.com where they can "chat"
without revealing personal information or security-enhanced
networking sites like My Secret Circle, which requires a USB stick
before kids can have access. Once a teen seems mature enough for
social networking, talk often about its risks. Most teens won't
respond well to lectures or scare tactics. Instead, help your child
develop the online equivalent of street smarts so he or she can
spot scams and predators.
Here are things you'll want to stress:
Every social networking site now gives members choices about who
can see their personal pages. (Find links to privacy pages for
several social networking sites at kids.getnetwise.org). Teenagers should use the
most secure settings so no one can see their page without
Even with that protection, young people should be wary about
what they post, especially if they have a large network. Friends
may show the page to others who may, in turn, harvest the kind of
details that make it very easy to commit real-life crimes,
including identity theft. Encourage your child to think about how a
criminal might make use of posted information: this family will be
on vacation at Christmas time. They live on Sucker Lane. Or this
girl drives home from soccer every night at 7:30.
A criminal-or a bully-who figures out your child's password not
only has access to personal information but can also impersonate
your child or use the account to make mischief. Encourage your teen
to create powerful passwords that include random letters as well as
some numbers and a punctuation mark or two. To create a memorable
password, try translating the lyric from a favorite song into code:
"Sometimes love comes around and knocks you down" might become
slca&ku1. Then-and this is important-tell your teen not to
share the password with anyone.
Part of the fun of social networking is passing around links to
videos, photos and other cool stuff. Criminals have exploited this
enthusiasm with attacks like Koobface (an anagram of Facebook).
Victims of this and other attacks get a message from someone they
know that includes a link. Clicking on the link downloads badware
that gives other people access to the computer and, potentially,
To outwit scammers, teach your child to roll the mouse over
links to reveal the underlying Web address. A URL from a legitimate
company will start with the name of the company spelled properly.
If the name is misspelled or appears later in the URL, the link is
a scam. Teens should also avoid clicking on anything that pops up
on the screen including "scareware" messages that promise a free
scan to protect the computer from viruses. These pop-ups often
implant the very programs they promise to eradicate. Instead, be
sure your computer is protected with updated anti-virus software
from a reputable vendor like Symantic, McCafee or AVG.
Even if your child is careful not to download viruses, his or
her friends may be less conscientious. If a friend's account is
compromised, your child may receive fraudulent messages from a
screen name they believe they can trust. For example, some
criminals send out distress messages claiming to have lost a wallet
or passport while traveling. Because they include personal details
gleaned from the social networking site, these contacts can seem
authentic. Some people have sent money-only to learn that their
real friend was never in danger. Teens should be equally skeptical
of too-good-to-be-true offers that appear to come from friends,
especially if they involve fees of any kind. Unfortunately, anyone
who asks for money online has to be presumed to be a crook until
Teens regularly get invitations to join groups that can range
from silly to serious. Although many networking groups are actually
communities of like-minded people, some are established simply to
harvest information about people who share a common interest.
Tell your child to do a little research before joining a group.
Who is the administrator? What is the purpose? How will posted
information be used?
Every social network both on and offline depends on trust, so
every social network is vulnerable to people who are willing to
exploit the faith of others. Teaching young people to be skeptical
and self-protective makes it more likely they will avoid online
miscreants and recognize the people who are true friends.
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