Teens and online social networking

By on May 9, 2010

U of I extension offers tips to stay safe
Courtesy of April Littig
University of Illinois Extension
Youth Development Educator

Friendships are everything to teens. The new technology avenues of today have provided many opportunities to network with existing friends as well as communicate with “cyber” friends.

In the 2007 Pew Internet and American Life Project—Teens and Social Media report, 55 percent of online teens (12-17 years of age) reported using some type of online social networking site and setting up profiles. Websites such as Facebook or MySpace combine many different features into one: personal profiles, blogs, videos, photos, and the latest news about music groups or fashion. So what are teens using these sites for?

Teens have reported that these sites are places to reinforce pre-existing friendships, flirt and make new friends. Social networking sites are used mostly for helping teens manage their friendships. In the Pew Internet and American Life Project study, 91 percent of all social networking teens say they use the site to stay in touch with friends they see frequently, while 82 percent use the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person. Other reasons teens use these sites are to make plans with friends, make new friends, and to flirt with someone. Teens (21 percent) are also reporting that they use these sites on a daily basis to send messages to friends. A study done by the National School Boards Association reported that teens were also using the sites for educational purposes, such as help with homework or college or career planning.

Social networking sites can be a great way for a teen to communicate. However, there are both positive and negative consequences that teens and their parents need to consider and remember when communicating online. Listed below are just a few tips for helping teens socialize safely online:
• Assume that everyone has access to your profile. Just because you have restricted your profile to “friends only” doesn’t mean other people can’t find information about you that you don’t want them to know. Make sure you have your profile set to “private” so that you can control who has easy access to your information.
• Never post your private information, such as a home/work address or telephone numbers, and never post your friends’ information either. If you put it online, it is like giving it out to the whole world. Post only information you are comfortable with others knowing. This includes pictures as well. Remember that future employers may look at your profile or pictures to see what type of person you are when hiring you as an employee.
• Remember that once you post information online, you can’t take it back. Even if you delete this information, other individuals may be using older versions in which this information is still available.
• Always assume that there are predators or people out there that may use this information to cause harm to you, or try and find you. Do not add an individual as a friend unless you know him or her personally. Always trust your gut if you have a suspicion about a person or something that is posted online. If something makes you uncomfortable, be sure to tell a trusted adult about what has occurred.
• You may be held responsible for inappropriate content on your profile. Be sure to remember to read the Terms of Service section when setting up your profile. They may differ for whichever site you are using.

Online social networking can be a great resource for teens if used effectively and safely. More information for teens and parents can be found at: www.webwisekids.org and wiredsafety.org.