The phenomenon of social networking has taken today’s youth culture by storm. At the same time, it has raised serious concerns among the parents of these tech-savvy teens. Media reports of online predators, cyberbullies, ruined reputations, and other dangers have parents fearing the worst and wondering how to talk to their kids about the issue. What’s a parent to do?

First, take a step back and get to know the facts of the matter. Read on to learn about the proven pros and cons of social networking for teenagers.

What are the benefits?

It’s not just teenagers who think social networking is cool. Researchers and survey groups have found social networking provides many benefits. For example:

  • Social networking is an extension of teens’ real-world friendships. It helps them enrich and manage their social lives.
  • Socializing online can give shy, socially awkward teens a comfortable way to communicate -- one that’s less intimidating than meeting face-to-face. This can boost their self-esteem and help them practice their social skills.
  • Teens with unusual interests or hobbies find kindred spirits online, giving them a place to share information and enthusiasm.
  • Kids who have disabilities or other challenges can communicate with other teens with similar problems. This lessens their sense of isolation and allows for mutual support.

What are the risks?

Studies and surveys reveal that social networking exposes teens to certain risks. For example:

  • Online bullying and harassment by peers, also known as cyberbullying. This may be the biggest online danger to kids. It’s often an extension of bullying that takes place at school but can be just as damaging, if not more so. Learn more about cyberbullying.
  • Online predators. While being harassed or stalked online by adult predators is far less common than cyberbullying, any incident is one too many.
  • Less face-to-face interaction with family and friends. Researchers are studying the effect of this trend on kids’ social development, but the long-term effects aren’t yet known.

Teach Your Teen to Socialize Safely Online

It isn’t easy to compete with your kid’s computer. She may consider Facebook her BFF, but it can’t give her love and guidance. You can. Try these tips to guide your teen’s life online:

  • Set (and enforce) reasonable rules and restrictions on your teen’s use of online technology. For example, don’t allow her to use her laptop computer in her bedroom, out of your sight and supervision. Just knowing you might walk by at any time may motivate her to be more mindful of the house rules.
  • Connect with your kid on Facebook or MySpace. If she’s not be crazy about this idea, point out that it could be a fun way to share photos, posts, and memories with cousins, grandparents, and other relatives.
  • Be proactive. Educate your teen about the risks of social networking and how to avoid them. From knowing what to do if she’s bullied online, or using privacy settings for her online profile, teach your teen to protect herself online.
  • Coach your teen to use caution and common sense online. Remind her to think twice before posting comments, photos, or videos – all of which add to (or detract from) her reputation.
  • Balance her online social life with face-to-face interaction. Encourage her to spend “face time” with friends, and keep family relationships strong by spending quality time together – and by simply making yourself available to listen and talk. Don’t allow her to play with her smart phone at the dinner table; instead, draw her into the conversation and do your best to keep her engaged.

Give these tips a try, and fine-tune your approach as you work with your teenager to shape her social networking skills. If you succeed in some ways but not in others, don’t despair! Raising a teenager – even one more tech-savvy than you are – is still something you’re well-equipped to do.

Related articles:

Adolescents and Electronic Communication

SocialNetworking Websites and Teens