by Laura Yecies
Back when I was in school (you know…when we had to walk to school in six feet of snow *uphill both ways*, and microwave ovens were the new electronic novelty), the only way to stay in touch with your friends over the summer was the home phone, and in person. That basically meant that you only ever spoke to your closest friends, and perhaps the neighborhood bully.
Nowadays, my 4 kids are using social networks to keep close tabs on each other during the summer months, sharing videos, gossip and twittering away the long sunny days. Posting videos on YouTube, sharing their current mood on Facebook, blogging on MySpace, and sharing every random thought to Twitter friends. They even build and inhabit virtual meeting places in Second Life. This doesn’t even count Instant Messaging, e-mail, chat rooms, and all the other ways kids communicate nowadays.
You can’t lock them in a closet until the fall or disconnect the Internet (as tempting as that may be), but even with a kid that may be light-years more Internet-savvy than you, there are a few simple steps you can take to mitigate the danger and keep tabs on your kids.
1. Link to your kids. Know what social networking sites they frequent, and become a “friend”. That way, you can see what they are posting, and keep an eye on their other friends. Yeah, they probably won’t thank you for it and say it makes them look uncool, but it’s an easy way to keep tabs without looking over their shoulder. Just don’t try to participate. That *is* uncool.
2. Move the PC. It’s not good for kids to be holed up in their room anyways for the summer. So put the PC in the dining room or living room. It may not stop them from visiting social networks, but it will make it uncomfortable to push boundaries.
3. Security software. You can protect your kids from many social networking dangers, such as drive-by spyware, video viruses and more with a core security suite and browser security. If you’re kids are younger, you may want to set some specific parameters with parental control features (for example, banning file-sharing or gambling sites).
4. Teach them. As parents of hyper-tech-savvy children, it can be daunting to assert a leadership position and teach them how to avoid danger when your own expertise may be limited. But a few old familiar lesions may be more valid than you think: don’t talk to strangers, look both ways, and stay away from bad neighborhoods.
And in the meantime, let them teach you a thing or two as well. Social networks are also great fun for adults. Maybe this summer you’ll reconnect with your best friend from high school, and you can reminisce over lunch about how easy kids have it today.