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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Social networking: Set the ground rules early

It’s easy for parents to believe that when it comes to kids and social networking there is only one web site they need to be concerned about. As long as we can keep our kids off Facebook, the thinking goes, then we don’t have to worry about them doing anything inappropriate.

But these days, our kids’ social networking experience is likely to start at a much younger age. Even if they are not one of the millions of Facebook tweens who ignore the minimum age requirement, then sites such as Everloop and GirlSense get them used to online interaction at an ever younger age.

While all these sites have strict rules on what kids can post, and limit or closely monitor the chat features, the underlying concepts are the same as Facebook and “older” social networks: friendship and sharing.

So it’s never too early to teach the fundamentals of appropriate social networking. Talk to your child about their interactions online; ask questions about what they are doing and who they are “chatting” to; make sure they understand that they can turn to you if they see anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Here are some other tips for your kids on their early social networking activity:

  • The online world is much the same as the offline world – there are friends and family; people you know a little but aren’t really friendly with; and there are strangers. Treat them the same as you would offline, and be very wary of contact from anyone you don’t know.
  • Don’t post personal information about yourself or anyone else. That includes where you’re from, where you go to school, and what teams you play for.
  • Respect other people’s rights and privacy. Don’t post photos of other people – even family – without their permission.
  • Don’t give out your password to anyone. Keep careful control of your online identity.
  • Agree to limits on the time you spend online

When kids do graduate to Facebook and other more open networks, it’s important that parents stay involved. Monitor friendships and be a coach – ask them what they are posting and what they think of other people’s updates. Remember, academic achievement doesn’t equal emotional maturity – even the brightest of kids can make silly mistakes online.

Above all, set a good example. Children are heavily influenced by their parents’ behavior. If they see you spending hours on Facebook, they will believe that social networking has an overly important role to play in their future lives.

Do you have other tips for kids starting out on social networks? Share them with The Online Mom!

Comment by Paul Smith, posted 7/18/2012, 12:10 AM:

My big concern is letting my kids use social media on their mobile phones! How do I make sure they are not using it inappropriately, or sending inappropriate messages? I use MMGuardian Parental Control to make sure they are using their phone the right way, hopefully it will work for you too!
Comment by @FirstClassKris, posted 7/16/2012, 5:17 PM:

This is a BIGGIE. My daughter is 8yrs old & proficient navigating a computer since about age 3. We began with 'JumpStart' kids games, and she took off learning all there was to know about computers. Although my daughter has been labeled 'gifted', she's still a child to me, and does NOT have the life experiences necessary to really know what's out there on the Internet. She is NOT allowed on without me right beside her & my eyes on the screen...
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