Growth and Development

Tips for Parents and Healthcare Providers: Teens and MySpace

Teach and Learn About Social Networking

The following Tips for Parents and Healthcare Providers: Teens and MySpaceare provided in conjunction with scientific findings from two new studies out of Seattle Children's Research Institute. Both studies are about teens and their displays of risk behaviors on MySpace, a popular social networking website (SNS). For additional information please also listen to audio (MP3) of Dr. Dimitri Christakis discussing MySpace, findings from the studies and what parents should know.

Know what your child is doing online

Communication gadgets and the online life they make possible 24/7 are ever present, and they have become essential tools. Teens readily access the Internet from phones, any time. Children are "first adopters," but parents should keep up with them to be able to know who they are, what they're doing and the choices they're making. Even if your child is the one teaching you about technology, you're still the parent.

Ask questions and set limits

Be involved in your child's life, which includes their online life. Ask questions, set limits and look at their online profiles periodically. Start early with these discussions, when your child begins to use the Internet on their own. Ask about their displayed events, favorites and friends. "Tell me about your friends at school?" should now include "Who are your online friends? What are online friends saying about you on the Web?"

Discuss how the information can be used by others

Discuss with your child how different people might view their displayed information, such as friends, their friends' parents, teachers, future employers, college admissions counselors, relatives and even strangers who may be dangerous or have bad intentions.

Support, don't criticize

Whenever discussing your child's online profile, focus on their safety and well-being, not on your judgment. Watch for any information that identifies them or helps others to find them. Discuss privacy settings. Help them think ahead and address possibilities.

Encourage open communication with your child

Encourage your child to tell you if something that happens online makes them feel uncomfortable.

You're not snooping or invading their privacy

Remember that it's not an invasion of privacy to view your child's online life. There's nothing private about it; if it's online for the world to see, there's no reason parents shouldn't stay on top of it. Sit with your child and "Google" their name together, so you can both monitor what's online.

Set up your own SNS profile

Create and use your own MySpace or Facebook page so that you'll know how it's done, understand what it's like and what it leads to. This can be a project you share with your child. Parents and children can list each other as "friends" and access each other's Web pages. This may be easiest to do when starting these conversations early with younger children.

Talk to your child's doctor

Healthcare providers should be aware of SNSs and realize that they are a powerful tool for learning more about children and teens as well as successfully reaching them.