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What ever happened to the old adage, "Don't talk to strangers"? It appears that today's youngsters are more than willing to share online a wide variety of information with people they don't know.
Sharing of photos and life's details with others via Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites has parents concerned. In a study released by Common Sense Media, 93 per cent of parents said they feel their children share online too much information about themselves. In the same study, 85 per cent of parents responding said they were more concerned now about online privacy than five years ago. The survey was conducted on the organization's behalf by Zogby International. Between Aug. 13 and Aug. 16, 2,100 adults were surveyed online.
There might be an inclination to think, "well, that is just parents' perception." However, the Common Sense Media study also included a survey of teenagers. Seventy-nine per cent of teenagers said they think their friends share too much online. From Aug. 18 through Aug. 20, 401 young people ages 15 through 18 participated in the survey.
In some cases, sharing too much online could just create an embarrassing situation. However, it could also become much worse. For example, it could open the door for bullying and cyberbullying. Unfortunately, mean-spirited young people seek any crack in someone's armour. As well, oversharing could make a young person a target for cyberstalking or online predators. There is also the concern about harming their future. More than half of the teens responding to the survey (58 per cent) said they fear sharing too much online could prevent them from getting hired or into the school of their choice.
What can parents do?
There are some steps parents can take to try to help prevent a problem that stems from their children oversharing:
- Talk to your kids about your concerns. This needs to be done in an open and non-accusatory way. If you can nurture an open relationship with them regarding online activity, they will be more inclined to come to you if something uncomfortable does occur or if they have concerns.
- Talk to them about using strict privacy settings on social networking sites, such as Facebook, so that they are not publicly searchable.
- Discourage them from using Foursquare, Gowalla and other similar applications that could reveal their location and routines to others.
- Warn them about posting photos online. Photos with recognizable locations could let stalkers and predators know where they go to school or places they routinely frequent. As well, there is the concern that "funny photos" could hurt their reputation or future job and school prospects.
- Consider installing a parental controls product, such as ParetoLogic's own free PGsurfer. You can use it to block social networking sites as well as inappropriate content.
- Advise them not to fill out questionnaires and giveaways online. The personal information in these could be used for a variety of purposes.
- Teach them to look for the little boxes on websites – the opt outs – so they can prevent their personal information from being collected and used.
- Ask them to speak to you first before acquiring any ringtones, software or downloaded items. Often they will be expected to give an email address before doing so. As well, these downloads could infect your PC with malware. PGsurfer can be set up to block downloads.
The online world can have great benefits for all of us. However, it is important – especially for young people – to be aware of the risks of sharing information online and to know how to reduce their risks.
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