Sunday, February 05, 2006 and other social networks and teens...what parents need to know.

I have been involved in Internet safety for ten years. I started as an Internet security and privacy lawyer and ended up heavily involved in child protection.
Recently, parents, schools, teens and preteens and law enforcement have been very concerned about the growing use and often abuse of social networking websites, such as,, and others.

Before we begin, know that this too will pass. So take a breath and don't panic. The worst thing you can do, as a parent, is show fear. And the worse thing you can do as a preteen or teen is cause your parents to show fear. :-)

And, remember...I have been doing this for a long time and have learned that the greatest single risk our kids face in connection with the Internet is being denied access. They need it for school, future careers and their lives. We have solutions for everything else, if we look at the issues calmly, work together with our kids and members of the Internet industry.

As I get better at this podcasting thing :-), I will have special sections just for teens, for parents, for schools and for law enforcement. For now, you have to all access it at this one place. So play nice!

I have attempted to lighten the tone a bit. Parents are already freaking and the schools aren't far behind. Freaked adults can't approach a problem in a productive way. So, my first tip for parents (and schools) is "Don't panic!"

We have a program called "Take5!" for our kids, preteens and teens. It is designed to teach them not to lash out online when something upsets them. We tell them to step away for the computer and no one will get hurt. (Using the Law & Order voice). Having your hand on the mouse is too tempting when you are emotional. Parents need to Take5! here. If they over-react and come on too strong, their teens will just find a way to hide what they are doing. That's bad for everyone. Parents need to be the one place their children can come and trust. The last thing we want to do is cause our children to turn to an Internet "stranger" posing as their friend for advice and comfort.

Next, after you are calm enough (it's hard being calm with all the TV shows on this subject and the other parents panicking around you) you have two choices. You can see if you can find your child's profile on your own and see what they have written that is viewable to the public, or you can ask them to show you. I opt for the second choice. But be prepared for lies and pointing fingers at their friends.

If they won't show you, or you can't find their profiles, you can talk to the school administrators. They often already have a handle on this and may know where your child's profile is located and what they are saying online. If not, you may be able to work with them or other parents to find it. The good thing is that the kids link to each others' profiles, so you only need to find one to find them all.

If none of this can resort to keylogging software, like the software sold by It will capture your child's passwords, as well as everything they say and do online. It will log their profile address wherever they have one. It is overkill for most situations. But in this world where thirteen year olds are refusing to listen to their parents, it may be your only option.

Once you get them to either show you their profile or find it yourself, you should be looking for certai things, no matter which site your child is using.

Drop back for the next episode on this and I'll teach you what to look for.

be safe!