Internet socializing good and bad

The Internet has redefined socializing for a new generation of tech-savvy teens. And not only teens. Adults who want to be in have become technologically inclined, too.

It used to be that texting and messaging consisted of scribbling notes and passing them unseen to each other in class.

In today’s world, though, people interact using popular programs like Windows Live Messenger, AIM, and Yahoo! Messenger. Web sites like Facebook and MySpace are also ways for people to associate with each other. As a communication tool, the Internet has a few unique qualities that make it both better … and worse than the good old piece of paper. With video, pictures and music, you can be far more expressive online. Teens especially love to share music and photos, all in full view of their webcams. At the same time, the Internet also allows one to be fairly anonymous.

But the dangers young people face can be enormous.

Your child may very well be talking to a fellow teenage classmate, or a 45-year-old man named Frank. With creative usernames, it’s really tough for kids to tell who is actually who. Teens lack the wariness that adult experience provides. Often, teens are in a hurry to grow up, and they want to exist in the adult world the Internet was designed for. They underestimate the dangers that exist, and can overestimate their own cleverness. Teens are perfectly aware of the fact their parents don’t know anything, right? Teens think that they are smart enough to know the difference between friend and foe.

Most online predators, though, are quite skilled at gaining the trust of a child. Once there is a “friendship” in place, it’s near impossible for a teen to properly tell the difference. In a recent TV report, there seemed to be no shortage of men willing to meet with a teen girl in her home. While these were safely staged setups, we all too often hear in the news of these meetings ending tragically.

As a parent, the best thing to do is to be involved. While most teens would love a computer in their rooms, it’s a bad idea. Parents should keep it in an open area that they frequently walk by. The kitchen or the dining room are both good places. Kids will tend to be more safety-aware when a parent might potentially come around the corner at any moment.

Parents should talk to their children about what’s out there, and educate them on what they need to know.

Parents should feel free to ask who their children are talking to, and keep note of the person on the other end of the camera if they are using one.

If a teen scrambles to close a chat window or acts suspiciously while online, parents would be doing them a favor by removing the computer access for a short time. The kids will likely get upset, but it’s the right thing to do. Parents will also need to discuss what’s needed to restore their teens’ access.

On the software side of the coin, there are a few things parents can do.

  1. Set the program or web page to request approval before somebody can contact your children. Two great applications that will help are PC Chaperone Professional and Webroot Child Safe.
  2. Teens should allow only those people they know and ignore those they don’t.
  3. A good idea for children, including teens, is to enter a bogus age, and omit gender when filling out their profiles. This will deter those searching for just teens and specific gender.
  4. Set the messaging program to save the transcripts of the chats. While parents don’t necessarily have to read them regularly, these can be handy to the police if they have concerns.

Teens’ well-being still involves parents – whether they like it or not!

Here’s how to work with the individual Internet communication applications: