Social networking sites are a great way for families and friends to stay in contact with each other. They also provide an open forum for people to speak their mind, talk about issues that are important to them, and share photos and memories with the world. Kids and teens have especially taken to this new way of connecting with people. In 2009, 38% of 12 year olds in the United States were members of at least one social network according to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. Kids love chatting, sharing real time photos, and instant messaging each other.
This is a wonderful tool for kids and teens to use, but there are certain things that must be taken into consideration, the first being the mental and emotional maturity of the user. Most young people don't understand that what you post online can be seen by everyone, and is online forever. Pictures, comments, etc. can be viewed by anybody you allow access to. The biggest concern most parents have is stalkers and pedophiles who can use the information posted by kids to pinpoint what school they go to, the rout they take to walk home, if they have after school jobs, or if they will be at a particular location unsupervised like at the mall.
The second concern is that most kids don't understand the long term consequences of what they post. Some users have found their posts used against them years later when they are applying for college and jobs. Comments about a particular college could result in an application to attend being denied. Pictures and comments at parties and social gatherings could cost you a job. Even pictures that a minor child may think are safe to post or share online could result in criminal charges of child pornography and a permanent record as a sex offender.
The last thing kids and teens need to keep in mind is that anything they post online can be accessed and manipulated by others. Cyberbullies have been known to take pictures from legitimate social networking profiles and create a dummy profile. They may doctor the pictures to depict the original person in compromising and embarrassing situations.
When teaching your children safety online it is always important to stress that nothing they post is 100% guaranteed to be private. Parents should be proactive in monitoring what their children post and talk with them if they see anything they deem inappropriate.