So your child or teenager wants to get on MySpace, Facebook, or YUNiTi – what do you do? This guide was written to inform parents about the dangers and benefits of social networking sites.

2 The Benefits and Positives
2.1 Reading and writing is a good thing!
Unlike the TV or sites like YouTube where your child will spend hours on end rotting their brains, social networking sites are actually good things! Most teenagers dedicate their time on social networks to commenting their friends and receiving comments back. This has 4 benefits:

1. Your child is reading

2. Your child is writing

3. Your child is learning to type faster

4. Your child is exercising their mind and thinking

Certainly a better use of time than sitting in front of a TV rotting their brains, wouldn’t you agree?

2.2 A great way to stay in touch with friends
Nowadays, things move quickly. Thanks to cell phones, the internet, and social networks, people expect information to be current and fast.

Social networks are an easy way to do this (which is why your kids want it so badly). It’s quick and easy to update multiple friends of new photos, to congratulate a friend on something, to keep in touch with old and new friends and to burn some time when they get “bored”.

2.3 A great way to meet people
At first you may be thinking – “talking to strangers? ONLINE? That’s dangerous and preposterous!” But keep reading.

Fact is, we live in an age of computers, and meeting online is becoming more and more popular. Social networks are a great way to meet people that you wouldn’t ordinarily meet, such as people in different cliques or groups of friends.

Social networks are also a great way to be introduced to cultures around the world. What better way to learn about England, Australia, France, Spain, or Brazil, than to have a pen pal from there?

Most of the time these people just become “internet buddies” or pen pals: people to talk to online that they never actually meet.

2.4 Better to support your child than have them go behind your back
You were a teenager once – how often did you actually listen to your parents when they said “no”?

Access to a computer is not difficult nowadays – there’s school, libraries, friends’ house. It isn’t difficult for your child to get a MySpace, Facebook, or YUNiTi account without you ever knowing.

This can be very dangerous, as they may make mistakes such as putting too much personal information, or talking to people they shouldn’t be talking to.

By supporting your child and walking them through the process of creating a profile, you can make sure that they do the right thing and that they are not in danger. Also, by having a link to their profile, you can check it regularly to make sure that they are not compromising themselves.

3 The Dangers and Drawbacks
3.1 “The Bad People”
Like any place in the world, there are good and bad people on social networking sites. Also like any place, the large majority of these people are good and mean no harm.

Sadly, there are those people who do mean harm to your child. But the risks are the same as letting your child walk to school, or go to a friends’ house – less so even, because online, these people do not have access to your child.

Contrary to popular belief, “sexual predators” do not go through extensive detective work to find out information about your child. Like all online scams, they go after the easy targets – the kids who want to be found, or the kids who are craving attention.

So, what can you do as a parent? As with every other aspect of parenting, the key isn’t to protect your child from everything, because fact is, you won’t always be there! The key is to teach your child how to take care of themselves.

1. Walk them through getting a social networking account, making sure strangers don’t have access to personal information

2. Get a link to their profile page, and check it regularly to make sure no identifiable information has been added

3. Teach your child how to behave when strangers message them online – no giving out any information such as name or address

4. Tell your child that if any stranger online starts asking too many questions, that they should come tell you

5. Talk to your child about what they’ve been up to online – don’t be too nosey, just make sure they’re safe

3.2 “The Addiction
Social networking can be addicting, even for adults. Be sure to watch over how much time your child is spending on social networking sites.

It is a good idea to make sure your child has completed all their homework (and maybe gone outside for a fresh breath of air) before getting online to talk with their friends.

4 Safety Tips
4.1 Setup profile privacy
It is a good idea to make sure that your child’s profile is as private as possible, so that strangers do not have access to identifiable information (such as information left in comments).

4.2 Check your child’s profile regularly
Make sure they haven’t made anything public which shouldn’t be. Sometimes this is done accidentally, leaving a comment for a friend with a phone number without thinking about the possibility of someone using this information.

4.3 Make your child’s age hidden (YUNiTi only)
On YUNiTi, you can hide your child’s age by clicking here (“Age Visible To”).

4.4 Make an account for yourself, and add your child as a friend
Create an account and add your child as a friend. This will make it easier to keep an eye out without having to constantly check up on them. Plus, it may improve your relationship with them if they see you are actively interested.

5 Conclusion
Social networking sites are a lot of fun, and they aren’t as dangerous or scary as people make them out to be. They have a lot of benefits, and are more constructive for your child than watching TV.

If your child wants to get on one, support them and watch over them. Teach them how to handle dangerous situations so they know what to do when you’re not around. Teach them to keep you updated on anything that could possibly be dangerous. And check their profile regularly to make sure they’re not in danger.

Author's Bio: 

Software Engineer, worked as a game software engineer for Electronic Arts for 3 years, now creating a social networking site that's safe for all ages