Aug 25, 2014

Dr. Gellner: In this wired age kids are much more connected with friends, and some they've probably never even met. So how do you stay on top of your teens and social media? I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner, and that's today on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah Physicians and Specialists you can use for a happier, healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: It's no surprise that the vast majority of American teens are on Facebook, Twitter, things like that. And as parent, you should worry about what your kids are doing there, because there are a lot of things that kids are doing online that they probably shouldn't be doing. Still it's interesting to know just how much social networking is going on. Teachers are even using Facebook as a way to show how social media gets around to people you've never even met, halfway across the world. And teachers also are using Facebook for homework now.

So the big difference is, what is the legitimate reason for using social media, and what is a reason that you should be concerned about?

Now if you're the parent of a teenager you might be surprised that some of the statistics regarding teens and social networking; and it may make you think twice about getting Facebook parental controls on.

So how many teens ages 12 to 17 really go online today? It's 93%; 69% of teens have their own computers, 73% of teens have a Facebook account, or have a Twitter account, and the average teen has 200 friends on Facebook.

So what do teens do on Facebook and Twitter? The majority, 86% of social networking using teens actually comment on friends' walls, post things, things like that that you would do on Facebook. About half of the time they are actually sending private messages to friends, things you cannot see on Facebook.

What you should be concerned about are these statistics. Fifty-five percent of teens have given up personal information to someone they don't know, including photos and physical descriptions of themselves. Think about all the sexting that's going on right now. In some cases recently in the news about kids putting inappropriate things on social networks and getting caught. This is big problem, because there are a lot online predators out there that are looking for teens who are just putting things out there thinking its fun, but not realizing the consequences.

Cyber bulling is also a big concern. Almost 30% of teens have posted mean information, embarrassing photos, or have perpetuated rumors about someone on Facebook. Almost 30% of teens have actually been stalked or contacted by a stranger, someone they don't know; even if they say they are a friend of someone else. Think about it; the friend of a friend of a friend. It was different before it went online, but now that friend of a friend of a friend can be miles away, or they can be just one street over.

About 25% of teens have had private or embarrassing information made public about them by other teens without their permission.

So controls, parental, controls. What do you think you can do about it? There's more than you think. 88% of parents know their teens typically use the Internet to communicate with people that they don't really know in the offline world. And 61% of parents' number one concern with teen's social networking is sharing personal information online. Remember, personal information can be used to not only cyber bully, but think about credit reports, things like that. You can get a whole lot of information out of Facebook.

And 60% of adults think that parents should have full control over everything a child does online. But how does that really encroach on your teen's privacy? Is it privacy or is it protection? Only about 35% of parents actually check their child's social network sites.

That's what parents are concerned about, but what do teens think about Facebook parental controls? Well guess what? Sixty-seven percent of teenagers say they know how to hide what they do online from their parents. Forty-three percent of teens said they would actually change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching them. So having parents involved has actually a big influence on what teens do online.

About 40% of teens actually think their online activity is actually private from everyone, including their parents. They really don't understand the consequences of some of these things that they post. They don't realize how many people are looking. Eighteen percent have actually created a private email address or separate social networking profile that their parents don't know about to keep their parents from knowing what they do. And about 10% of teens have actually unlocked parental controls to disable filtering so they actually can block you from knowing what they're doing.

So what can you do to help? The first thing you can do is set limits for use of cell phones, computers, any way that they can get onto social networking. You can check their web browser and see what they are using. And you can also make sure you have those parental controls and passwords to block access to inappropriate websites, anything else on Facebook that you might be able to have your child access. And make sure you know how to use those privacy settings; not only on Facebook, but also on the Internet itself so only your child's friends can view your child's profile on Facebook and you can actually control what your child sees on the Internet in general.

Be sure to explain to your child the dangers of giving out personal information online. And make sure your child does not share his or her phone number, address, picture, or other personal details with online friends without your permission. There is even a setting on Facebook where if somebody posts a picture and tags you in it, you actually have to approve that picture before it will show up on your profile.

Make sure your child also understands that the things he or she "says" on the Internet is never private, and it never goes away. Once it's out in cyberspace it's there forever. Posts made on the websites can be seen by people they weren't intended for. Again, cyber bullies, stalkers, child predators, so make sure your child understands this.

Again, Facebook may seem like a fun way to spend time, and post pictures of everything and let people know what you're doing. But it isn't necessarily the safest place for your teenagers to play online. Again that's part of the appeal; teens like to branch out and do things that are a little risky.

So parents, you are reasonably concerned about your child's Facebook activities. You should be; as a parent that's your job. But the best parental controls you can have over Facebook are open and honest communication so that you know what your child is doing. Make sure your children who are on Facebook have you as one of their friends so you can see what's going on as well. And that will eliminate a lot of concerns about Facebook, social media, Twitter. And just remember, if you put it on there it's out there.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine; this is The Scope; University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

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