NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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Social Networks & Teens

Social Networks & Teens

Teens and pre-teens are often the first adaptors of any new technology –including cell phones, texting and social networks.  A social networking site is an online place where a user can create a profile and build a personal network that connects him or her to other users – MySpace and Facebook are two popular sites.          In recent years, such sites have rocketed from a niche activity into a phenomenon that engages tens of millions of internet users. More than half (55%) of all online American youths ages 12-17 use online social networking sites, according to a national survey of teenagers conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The survey found that older teens, particularly girls, are more likely to use these sites. Friendships are everything to teens. The new technology avenues of today have provided many opportunities to network with existing friends as well as communicate with "cyber" friends.

Teens have reported that these sites are places to reinforce pre-existing friendships, flirt and make new friends.  In the Pew Internet and American Life Project study, 91 percent of all social networking teens say they use the site to stay in touch with friends they see frequently, while 82 percent use the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person. Other reasons teens use these sites are to make plans with friends, make new friends, and to flirt with someone. Teens (21 percent) are also reporting that they use these sites on a daily basis to send messages to friends.

Social networking sites can be a great way for a teen to communicate. However, there are both positive and negative consequences that teens and their parents need to consider and remember when communicating online. Even with privacy settings, most social networking sites are open to an enormous number of people, which means that your teen could be exposed to harassment, bullying or sexual advances. Cyber-bullying and harassment are most often perpetrated by other teens and tend to happen most to older girls and to teens of either gender who have a strong online presence. It may take several forms:

- Publicizing private instant messages, text messages or e-mails

- Posting threatening messages

- Posting photos that will cause embarrassment

- Spreading rumors

To ensure your teen is safe online -

-Assume that EVERYONE has access to your profile. Just because you have restricted your profile to "friends only" doesn't mean other people can't find information about you that you don't want them to know. Make sure you have your profile set to "private" so that you can control who has easy access to your information.

-Never post your private information such as a home/work address or telephone numbers and never post your friends' information either. Any info you post online, is the same as snail mailing it to the entire world. Post only information you are comfortable with others knowing. This includes photos. Future employers may look at your profile or pictures to see what type of person you are when hiring you as an employee.

-Remember that once you post information online, you can't take it back. Even if you delete this information, other individuals may be using older versions in which this information is still available.

-Always assume that there are predators or people out there that may use this information to cause harm to you, or try and find you. Do not add an individual as a friend unless you know him or her personally. If something makes you uncomfortable, be sure to tell a trusted adult about what has occurred.

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