Posted: Jun 13, 2012 2:00 PM
The explosion of technology and social media use among tweens and teens has left many parents increasingly in the dark about what their children see, say and do every day -- leaving them worried about what they don't know.

Contributed by Lisa Shaw

The truth is, most children have a hard enough time navigating the potential threats and pitfalls that come with being a tween or teen in the physical world, and the digital component only compounds the situation. Many parents today have no idea what kind of information their teens are accessing and sharing on a daily basis, and the risks they are exposing themselves to. Most would be shocked by the conversations their teens are having in relatively public forums like Facebook and Twitter.

Question^How can parents help tweens and teens navigate their physical and digital worlds in a way that will keep them safe and on the right track?

Many parents don't know that tools exist to help them or are simply unaware of the degree to which their children are at risk. Here are five easy tips for parents to promote teen cyber safety:

Start a dialogue with your tween/teen

Before you hand over any tech device, especially a smartphone, engage in a conversation about the responsibilities of owning that device and what the expectation is for usage. Talk about sexting, cyberbullying, hazing and other threatening acts. Make your teen feel comfortable coming to you or other trusted adults if inappropriate content is shared with them.

Remember that you own the technology

Chances are if your tween or teen has a computer or smartphone, you, the parent, are the one who bought the device and are the one paying the bills! Communicate upfront that you ultimately are the owner of the computer or phone and should have access to it, as well as any passwords used on the device.

Set parental controls

Be sure to set controls on your teen's computer or smartphone to monitor its usage and activity. There are many providers that offer comprehensive solutions that can monitor both.

Know that a smartphone is really a mini computer

Understand that the power of the internet is now in your teenager's hands with a smartphone, so it is important to discuss what content they can download, what services they can use, and with whom they are allowed to communicate in order to ensure their safety.

Post the rules of engagement in a public area

Set clear expectations with your tween/teen about when and where they are allowed to use the phone. Don't assume they understand the repercussions of their actions (for example, how photos they take can show up in unintended places). Err on the side of caution -- be very explicit about what is okay to take a picture of and what is not.

Bottom line^ What parents teach their kids now about safe and appropriate online and mobile behavior can help ensure a happy and healthy passage to adulthood.

>> Lisa Shaw is a mom of five kids ranging in age from kindergarten to high school, a Harvard MBA and Senior Director of Online Teen Safety and Protection at SpectorSoft. She's an expert on the technology and trends that you need to arm yourself with to be the best parent you can be in today's digital world.

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Topics: computers