Keeping Tweens & Teens Safe Online

By the age of nine, most kids are as firmly entrenched in their life outside the home as they are in the family. This means that peer pressure is exerting a greater influence. The desire to fit in is stronger, making it more important than ever for parents to exert a consistent, guiding force in the right direction.

As they move toward adolescence, the tweens are beginning to crave more autonomy and independence. Perhaps they will ask for an email account of their own if they donít already have one. They may show an interest in blogging, or join web communities on sites that are popular with their peers.

Many parents are surprised that this behavior occurs so early, and panic if they are unprepared for the changes in their childís needs and interests. Rest assured, the drive for selfhood and the need to be accepted are normal aspects of development.

What this means from a parenting perspective is that the child is ready for a bit more independence and responsibility. With the proper structure still in place, the boundaries can be moved a bit further without putting the child at risk.

Guidance and supervision will continue to be required to varying degrees, and many parents wisely choose to keep tabs on their childrenís internet activity, even when greater privileges have been earned.

Adolescence is a time of self-discovery. These years see the teen forming an identity, largely through a process of trial and error. Any parent who has raised a teen can tell you how mercurial they seem in their pursuits and interests.

Your job continues to be to love them, to provide for their needs, to protect them, and to guide them. Many of the mistakes teens make stem from feeling cut off, misunderstood, and unaccepted. Give them as much understanding and acceptance as possible, so that home remains a safe haven, the place they turn to in times of trouble.

Websites such as MySpace allow members age 14 and over to create a personal web page, post blog entries, and post messages to other members. These communities are very popular with teens. While they do provide a forum for self-expression and interaction, there are also risks involved.

If you permit your teen to participate at sites such as these, one good practice is to view his page regularly to monitor comments posted by others. You may be able to head off trouble if you spot anything inappropriate or hurtful.

Be sure your teen agrees to make his profile private, rather than public. Private profiles can only be viewed by members to whom the teen has granted access. These people are listed on his page as ìfriendsî.

Public profiles allow information to be gathered through a search based on specific attributes, such as age or gender or geographic location. Predators can use this information to target a child. It is best to prevent that possibility altogether.

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