By Regina Lewis, AOL Consumer Advisor
These days, your teens’ “friends” aren’t just the kids hanging out in your kitchen and family room, they’re hundreds of contacts on their “friend” and “buddy” lists. More than 50 million teens (ages 13 to 17) are online worldwide and the average number of “friends” is 130. For many teens, these numbers are even higher. It’s not unusual to have more than 500 “friends” and more than 1,000 profile photos.
So, how can you realistically keep up with your child’s vast circle of “friends” and ongoing status and photo updates?
1. Become a “Friend”
For starters, you can become your child’s online. They’ll need to accept your friend request. This can be easier said than done. In some cases, you may get push back. It’s your call how strongly you press.
There are more private alternatives. A new product called SafeSocial lets you privately see everything you would as a “friend” and even more. Many kids prefer this route. Remember, you’re not “spying” on them; you’re simply doing your job as an informed and involved parent.
2. Curb the Comments
If your child is reluctant to accept you publicly as a “friend,” be sure not to push your luck by excessively commenting on their page once you are granted access. Grandparents can be over-commenting culprits, too. Often teens find this “embarrassing” and it may even lead to having them “un-friend” you. It happens all the time.
3. Get a Report Card
The new parenting tool SafeSocial offers a time-efficient and thorough way to keep tabs on your children’s social networking without being too intrusive. It delivers an easy-to-read report card providing a 360 degree view of their overall social networking— what they’re saying and doing and who their friends are.
This answers one of the biggest issues facing parents all over the country—feeling like you need to spend hours each week monitoring your child’s online activity and still not really being sure if you’re seeing everything (they can filter your view) or what you might be missing (what’s happening on their friends’ pages).
4. Watch the Friends
All friends are not created equal. Some your children may know well, some they may barely know at all. You can get a good feel for their entire list via SafeSocial’s Friend Engine, which takes an extensive look at your kids’ friends and checks them against more than 50 databases to see if they may not be who they say they are. You’ll be alerted when an adult becomes a friend of your child, when someone looks suspicious or has no or few other mutual friends with your child.
5. Loaded Language and Photos
Specific words that may come up in strings of conversation— sex, drugs, alcohol, suicide and so on and suggestive or violent language will be flagged, so you can hone in on the suspect dialog versus reading every post. This helps prevent missing something inadvertently.
You can even opt to be immediately notified via an email alert. This piece could prove priceless in protecting your children’s safety and managing their reputations.
While every conversation and image is archived, you can adjust the settings to simply view those that are called out. This lets you give kids more privacy as they mature. You will also see all photos, including those other people post of your child. Young people tend to push the envelope with photos and videos, so checking out this section of the report card is critical.
Overall, social networking is an integral part of many teenage lives and an opportunity for your kids to learn to express themselves in a creative and responsible fashion. It’s too big a trend to ignore. You can embrace it with these new tools on your side. For more information, visit www.safesocial.com, www.safety.aol.com and www.reginalewis.com.
AOL Consumer Advisor Regina Lewis (www.reginalewis.com) is a national TV and radio contributor and Internet trend expert. She knows the tips, tricks, secrets and shortcuts for making technology work for you.