Tips to Keep Your Teens (and Yourself) Safe on MySpace and Other Social Networking Sites

Make MySpace, and any similar online meeting place, a safer environment for your kids: Internet ScamBusters #219

We’ve had a lot of subscribers request that we write about staying safe on MySpace, as well as other similar sites. So today, we have an issue for you called “Tips to Keep Your Teens (and Yourself) Safe on MySpace and Other Social Networking Sites.”

Although we focus on MySpace, the same advice applies to other social networking websites as well. If you are a parent, grandparent, or teen, we recommend you pay close attention.

We also have a short Snippet at the end of this issue for subscribers who have analog cell phones.

On to today’s topic…

Tips to Keep Your Teens (and Yourself) Safe on MySpace and Other Social Networking Sites

MySpace is one of the most popular social networking websites (with well over 100 million users). It lets users interact with a network of friends, and create personal profiles and blogs that include photos, music, audios and videos, as well as text.

In fact, MySpace is a great place for teens to communicate and interact with friends who live down the block — or across the world. They can share photos, music, messages… just about anything. And bands have used MySpace very successfully to communicate directly with fans.

Now, you don’t have to be a teenager to obtain a MySpace account. Anybody with access to the Internet can sign up for this free website.

Though most users are honest — and many can be great Internet acquaintances — there are enough shady users to warrant your concern as a parent, grandparent or teen.

Here are a few things that parents and teens can do to make MySpace, and any similar online meeting place, a safer environment.

8 MySpace Safety Tips for Teens:

  1. Don’t use your real name anywhere on the site. If you have a common first name — Thomas, Samantha, or Chris — use that and nothing more.You can also pick a name that is meaningful to you without giving away personal details. For example, create a username that reflects your interest in music or writing, art or cars.
  2. Fill out as little of your personal profile as possible. You don’t have to tell everybody how old you are or where you live. Some people opt to give only their home state, or region in some cases, for safety reasons.You also don’t have to upload a photo of yourself. If you want to share some sort of image, you can find an avatar online that fits your personality.A good rule of thumb is to not post anything you don’t want the whole world to know about.
  3. Only let people on your “friends” list access your profile and other information. The less you reveal to strangers, the safer you’ll be.This will only work, though, if you use discretion when you add people to your friends list. If you reciprocate every friend request that you receive, you’ll quickly lose control over profile access.
  4. When you post a blog entry, proofread your writing a couple of times before you submit. After all, you don’t want to give away too much personal information.For example, Internet strangers don’t need to know which school you attend, your kid brother’s first name or where you go to church.Also, don’t post things that could embarrass you later. Even if you set your profile to “private,” it could still come back to haunt you later.
  5. Sometimes you’ll receive comments or messages from people you don’t know. If that happens, you should be careful if you decide to reply.Dangerous people often have subtle ways of making you slip up and share the wrong information when you aren’t on guard.
  6. Remember that the moment you send a comment or message to somebody else, whatever you wrote is no longer in your control.What you send to one person — even a friend you know IRL (“in real life”) — can travel all over the Internet (and your school’s hallways) without you even knowing this is happening.If you have something to say that you don’t want just anybody knowing, tell only your most trusted relatives and friends — in person, not via the Internet, text messaging or email.
  7. If another MySpace user is making you uncomfortable — trying to send you photos that you don’t want to see, or asking overly personal questions — report that user to MySpace administrators.Then add that user to your “ignore” list and forget all about him or her once you’ve contacted MySpace.(Confronting that user won’t solve anything. Some people actually feed on conflict: don’t give the user the satisfaction of being sucked in.)
  8. Recognize the employers often check MySpace before making job offers. So be careful about what you post on your MySpace pages.

Here are four things that parents should do:

  1. Ask for access to your teen’s MySpace page.You need to decide on the rules about your access to your teen’s page. If you feel you need/want access, then you should be able to hop on your computer and visit the page any time you want. If your child has “friends only” enabled, then your username should be on that list. This way, you can view your teen’s page to make sure that he or she hasn’t posted anything overly personal.
  2. Depending on your teen’s age and maturity level, you might want to restrict Internet access to times when you’re around. Many parents keep the family computer in a common room so they can check on what their children are doing without having to barge into a bedroom.
  3. Again, depending on your teen’s age, you might want to know who is on your teen’s list of friends. Some will be other teens that you already know: classmates, teammates, youth group buddies or the like. Others will be strangers to you.Knowing who these people are could help you keep your teen safe.
  4. If your teen is supposed to meet an online-only friend in person, consider being there as well. If your teen is meeting another teen who lives in the area, they could probably still have a good time together even though boring old Mom or Dad is not too far away.But if a predator shows up to meet with your teen and sees you there, he or she will leave as quickly as possible.

When you and your teen follow these tips — and remember to communicate with each other every step of the way — you’ll be able to sleep well at night knowing that you’re doing what you can to protect your son or daughter’s virtual life.

Teaching your teen how to stay safe on MySpace (without being overly protective) is something you can — and should — do.

For Analog Cell Phone Users

There are two general types of cell phone services: analog and digital. Analog is older and is being phased out.

In fact, analog is scheduled to “go dead” (i.e., stop working) on February 18, 2008, less than a year from now. (It is possible that this date may be extended in the future — that certainly does happen with deadlines like this.)

Nonetheless, it’s important to know that if you have an analog phone, it will stop working in the not-too-distant future. So, you’ll probably want to get a new cell phone within the next year.

Time to close — see you next week.