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October 5, 2009
Times Observer

Facebook is the social networking website of choice by most of today’s teens and college students. It has become yet another source of wonder and concern for parents whose children and young adults are completely immersed in technology. Email, IM (instant messaging), text messages, blogs, MySpace, Twitter – so many ways to stay connected and reach out to others across the globe. Since this form of communication is so new, the rules for interaction online are really in their formative stages. Etiquette and acceptable behavior are open to discussion but here are some basic tips and suggestions that might be helpful for parents and teens alike:

For Teens Facebook is only for teens 13 and older and its usage is forbidden to anyone younger.

Your “friends” should be just that – your real friends! The rules you learned as a child about not talking to strangers more than apply here. Never accept “friends” you don’t know. The same holds true for organizations and groups posted on the Internet. Stick to groups relating to your school, church, etc., with which you are familiar. Watch what you say because the consequences can be far-reaching. What you put in print stays in print and can be read by countless people. Never say anything that is hurtful or untrue about another person because you never know who may read it. If you post stories about the wild party you went to last weekend, a perspective employer can easily read them. Many businesses are now checking websites like Facebook to get a better idea of what kind of person they are thinking of hiring.

Never post photographs you don’t want everyone to see. Again, the pictures are permanent and can be seen by teachers, employers, and others.

Be savvy about the promotions that come across your wall and don’t be fooled by promotions and prizes or “free” offers. Don’t go to places on the Internet you’re not supposed to visit and don’t be fooled by websites because they might not be legitimate or what you thought they were.

Do not give out more information than is necessary. Do safeguard your privacy by not freely giving out your address, age, phone number, email address, etc. The entire world doesn’t need to know any of these bits of personal knowledge about you. Along those lines, don’t lie about your age just to try to appear to be “grown up.”

Set your profile settings to “only my friends.” Let one of your parents be listed as your “friend.” This helps them understand what’s going on in your life and enables them to continue communicating with you about making wise choices and understanding how Facebook works from your perspective. Again, you do not need to allow everyone who asks to be posted on your wall.

For Parents Talk to your teens about Facebook and lay the ground rules early on. Frank discussions about Internet usage are valuable tools for building bridges with your teen. Explain you expect to be included as a “friend” and you must not be blocked on their privacy settings. Just as you must be present to teach them to drive someday, so it is with the Internet. You want them to learn to be responsible and wise users. This doesn’t mean you should necessarily be a “friend” to their “friends.”

Be careful about what you post on your teen’s “wall.” A happy birthday is perfectly acceptable but discipline issues or comments on behavior or dress should not be subject for Internet chat.

Don’t overreact if you find your teen has joined a chat group. If it’s something you object to, again, use this time for discussion and reaffirm your expectations for behaviors on and off the Internet.

Never post anything yourself that might embarrass your teen or that could be misconstrued or misinterpreted. Racy or alcohol related jokes or photos would certainly be off limits.

Realize, even within your own family, every teen is different and his or her ability to handle online situations varies with age and experience. Talking about Facebook and other Internet sites can become a wonderful opportunity for you, as a parent, to get to know your child and open the lines of communication rather than close them. Approached with respect, consistency, a firm and caring hand, the seeds can be sown for future growth and responsibility.

Julie Dudgeon, Middle School Coordinator for Chautauqua Striders, supervises the after school tutoring programs at Jefferson, Washington, and Persell Middle Schools, and also CARE (Community AcademicsReaching Everyone) tutoring program at the Jamestown YMCA, Second Floor. A resident of this area most of her life, she is married and has two grown sons

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