Seventy-four percent of 12-18 year olds have a profile on a social networking site, a Kaiser Family Foundation study concluded.
“Parents that think their kids don’t might be surprised that their kids do,” Oregon Schools information technology director Nathan Quigg said. “Most kids have switched over to Facebook because once Grandma and Ma got on MySpace, it was no longer hip. I’m sure once there is something new, they’ll switch again.”
Facebook has a rule that a child must be 13-years-old to have an account, but that is not always the case.
“Who checks? My 6-year-old can come along and say she’s 65,” Fassett Middle School information technology instructor Amy Sweet said. “But if you want to see more — see what people really have you must have your own settings. I strongly recommend if your child has a Facebook account, you must get the password.”
Sweet noted that social networking pages can be great for communication, when used in the right way.
“Facebook is a great way for our kids to interact,” Sweet said, recalling a conversation she observed between two children that concluded with “violence is not the answer.”
“If you’re a fan of wearing socks and sandals, there’s a page for that. If you’re a fan of texting, there’s a page for that. There’s a page for practically anything,” Sweet continued. “They can also pull applications that can bring viruses to your computer.”
But the situation can get complicated when a person has hundreds of “friends” registered on Facebook, Sweet said. That is common, too. Sweet knows a college student who has 740 friends on Facebook, and she said chances are this person has little knowledge of who many of those people are.
Oregon police detective Janet Zale said another survey found that 56 percent of children on the internet post personal information, and 43 percent are willing to communicate with unknown people.
“It’s just that children believe how many friends you have may be how popular you are on the internet,” Zale said. “The opportunities are there for you. The boys don’t have to sneak around and find Playboy magazine and show it to their friends — it is there for you. Click.
“If you go into MySpace and see some of the crap that all of these girls are putting on their websites and they wonder, ‘Why are these guys bothering me?’ Well, it’s because of what you put on the internet,” continued Zale.
“That’s something to keep in mind as you go into your children’s settings,” Sweet said. “If they have 500 friends, a lot of people can see what they are doing. Your child can have 500 instant messages going on at the same time. I can see all of 500 friends’ pages and 500 friends can see all of mine. If you put in, ‘I’m going to Disney for the week,’ my 650 friends will have my address and they know I’m leaving home.
“If I don’t want the entire world to see it, I might think I can check ‘friends of friends’ so all my friends and only their friends can see it. But if you can change it to ‘only friends,’ that is helpful. But if you have 150 friends and they have 450 friends, you can do the math.”
Sweet noted privacy and applications settings exist to block certain people from viewing your child’s page, but many parents and children are unaware of the settings or do not know how to access them.
“A lot of kids don’t know what the features are,” Sweet said. “They don’t know how to get it so friends they don’t want to contact them can’t contact them. If you don’t want a person to be your child’s friend anymore, then there is an easy way to do it. When a kid doesn’t go into these settings, anyone by default is a friend of everyone.”
Sweet also suggests that children should not post a real picture of themselves along with their profile.
“People who know you know what you look like. Delete the photos that aren’t appropriate and ask your kids, ‘Are these the picture you want the whole world to see?’” Sweet said.
Detective Zale said once you put a photo on the internet, it’s permanent whether it’s deleted or not. Once there, the photos often get passed around “from pedophile to pedophile” or get copied onto different search engines and are never really deleted.
The police during an investigation recently found pictures taken four years earlier that were still being passed around. They have even found photos taken during the 1970s still being passed around today by pedophiles.
Sweet and Zale also suggest limiting contact information and do not fill out personal surveys.
“When I first got on Facebook, I thought, ‘Why do they keep sending me wrinkle cream ads?’ Then I thought, ‘Oh, because I’m over 40 and they know how old I am,’” Zale said.
Sweet explained, “Get rid of all the checkmarks because that is where their advertisers get all the big bucks. Get rid of all of them and save changes. Now all their advertisers can’t get in touch with me. Plus, you can block all sorts of games where kids can get addicted to these things.”
Oregon Schools technology director Nathan Quigg suggests visiting www.athinline.org for information. Another option, Quigg said, is to search “sexting” on the MTV website, which broadcast a two-part series on texting based on two separate cases.
“Sit with your kid and sit down and watch it,” Quigg said. “It’s pretty real. It’s pretty raw.”
Quigg also suggests that Oregon residents openly discuss situations that develop with their neighbors, while the school district keeps an eye on 4,000 students.