by Ginger Marin

With the popularity of social networking websites here’s are some words of caution. Not everybody trying to be your friend is really trying “to be your friend”. They may have other motives and it certainly behooves parents to know what they’re kids are into.

Keeping an eye on their activities will help protect identity (theirs and yours) and keep sexual predators at bay. Content such as foal language, bullying and threats, sexually explicit terminology and especially sexually explicit photos and videos can “magically” turn up in other members’ profile pages, photo galleries, in blogs, forums and groups.

Some social networking websites closely monitor certain word tags assigned to videos, photos and groups. They might also provide a direct link on their pages so members can easily report offensive content. Although offensive content can appear anywhere on a social networking website, the most explicit content seem to appear mostly in group forums. So it pays to be vigilant if you’re a parent trying to protect a child or you simply find these things offensive.

If you’re a parent, the very first thing you should do is teach your children about the possible dangers that exist on the Internet, particularly about situations that might crop up on a social networking website, for instance:

  • Remind them that on the Internet it’s easy for people to pretend to be someone else. They can easily change their name, age and gender in an effort to get close to children.
  • Tell them to never give out personal information about themselves, the family, neighbors or friends to strangers they may meet online.
  • Tell them not to post pictures of your house with identifiable numbers and street names or pictures showing a phone number.
  • Let them know that if they encounter something or someone dangerous they should tell you about it.
  • Tell them that if they ever receive an emailed picture with sexual content, or see something on the social networking website that they find disturbing, they should tell you about it immediately.

Social networking websites are fun and kids do want to participate in them. They’ll want to build personal profiles and explore the profiles of others. A good bit of safety advice is resist the urge to “tell all”. Your social networking experience can still be fun and rewarding. You’ll make new friends and yes, some of them may even turn out to be real “finds”. But on the Internet, a little common sense goes a long way. Enjoy and be safe.

Author Ginger Marin is an actor, freelance writer and storyteller.  You can also find her on Google+