Get Smart

Teen hot spots

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Safety Net

Online networking sites like MySpace have been getting a bad rep lately. Sure, they have their share of shady characters. But they are also online homes to millions of perfectly nice people who just want to express themselves, meet up with friends, or carve out their own piece of the Web.

So how do you make sure your kids use them safely? Here are some tips from James Steyer (CEO of Common Sense Media ) and Parry Aftab (executive director of wiredsafety.org ).

Be discreet

Tell your kids to avoid posting any personal identifiers—addresses, birth dates, schedules, party postings, anything that lets people know where teenagers are going to be at a certain time.

Avoid inappropriate pictures

No matter how funny those spring break or graduation party pics are, you never know when a teacher, guidance counselor, or even a college admissions officer might happen across them. Make sure all posted pictures are strictly PG.

Discuss security

Ask your kids what security settings they’re using and why they chose them. For instance, MySpace users can allow only friends to view their full profile. Also, talk to your kids about whom they’re allowing on their friends list and what criteria they’re using.

Forbid in-person meetings

Don’t let your kids meet in person with anyone they’ve encountered online. It’s as easy as that.

Review pages

Ask your kids to sit down with you and give you a guided tour of their personal page. Aftab recommends giving them 24 hours’ notice so they can do whatever rejiggering they want to do (such as hiding personal notes from friends).

Set age limits

Sites like MySpace require kids to be 14 years old to create a page. Take heed, and don’t let your 13-year-old prematurely age himself or herself.

Report negative activity

If something bad happens—someone suspicious contacts your kid, for example, or classmates taunt him or her—report it. Web sites wield magical banning powers.

[ Cathy Lu is a science and technology writer based in Seattle. ]

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