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How to keep your teen safe on the Internet

Talking about the consequences of posting pictures or phone numbers on Facebook, rather than banning the technology entirely, is the best way to help teens use the Internet safely, a new consumer protection guide from the Federal Trade Commission says.

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For parents who worried about the potential dangers in new technology, and are unsure how to help their kids navigate a wireless world safely, there may be comfort in the basic message from a new guide from the Federal Trade Commission: Talk to your kids.

Ultimately, simply addressing these issues with your kids – and emphasizing that the basic rules that guide communications offline are the same ones that should apply to communication online – is what’s important, says Nat Wood, an assistant director in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“The reach of modern communication technology means it can be really hard to step away from a mistake, but the principals of communicating in a civil way are the same online and off,” says Mr. Wood, who worked on the FTC guide, known as Net Cetera. “In a lot of ways, this makes it easier on parents.”

Still, the combination of typical teenage poor judgment with the far reach of today’s technology haunts many parents, who envision their teenagers being harassed by peers, stalked by a sexual predator, or answering questions from a potential boss or college admissions officer about the embarrassing photos they posted to their Facebook page.

Kids' poor judgment

Valerie, a mother in North Dakota who prefers not to use her last name because of privacy concerns, was surprised when her 16-year-old daughter’s cell phone started registering a lot of odd numbers. She went onto Michelle’s MySpace page – available to anyone – and discovered she’d posted her number, and many other private details, along with the message, “I’m bored, text me.”


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