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How to tune in to your wired teen

  • Story Highlights
  • Teens and tweens grew up with the Internet, use it intuitively
  • Many parents concerned about potential online threats
  • Internet expert says fear far greater than actual abduction risk
  • Anastasia Goodstein says parents should understand what kids are doing
  • Next Article in Technology »
By Valerie Streit
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(CNN) -- Meet the "digital natives." They are the teens and tweens who flock to MySpace, Facebook and other social networking sites.

Facebook attracted 30.6 million U.S. visitors during September.

With ages barely into the double digits, these "digital natives" are growing up with the Internet.

Actual public spaces -- the parks and playgrounds their parents enjoyed as children -- are being replaced by the virtual spaces of Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, social networking Web sites, instant messenger platforms and video-music swapping sites.

Sure, the "digital native" is a stereotype, but it's one that might sound familiar to many parents and educators puzzled by the social habits of this young and wired generation.

According to Anastasia Goodstein, author of "Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens are Really Doing Online" and blogger for, theirs is a virtual space wherein they play games, experiment with self-expression, and socialize with friends. Video Watch what kids are really doing online »

Their parents, on the other hand, use the Internet to get work done, buy airline tickets or do their online banking -- if they're even online at all.

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"We didn't have the Internet back then, so it's hard for us to see how this is such a big part of their lives. We're the virtual immigrants," Goodstein said.

Goodstein said this generation uses technology intuitively, but their parents and teachers see it as a potential threat. And who can blame them, given our culture's obsession with the dangers of online predators?

"I think the way it's been covered and reported leads parents to believe that being online on these social networking sites means their child is going to be abducted or that horrible things are going to happen to them," Goodstein said.

She said the fear is out of proportion to the numbers of child abductions by strangers on the Internet.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently released a report called "Teens and Online Stranger Contact." It found that 32 percent of online teens have been contacted by someone unknown to them. Of that percentage, 7 percent said they have felt scared or uncomfortable as a result of that stranger contact, most of them girls. Read the report

These results show that a small fraction of teens report a negative experience. Most online teens are not contacted by strangers, and those who are are pretty savvy about dealing with them, Goodstein said.

The word "stranger" also needs a little more perspective. "Not all strangers who solicit teens online are child predators. Those 32 percent of teens could have been solicited by bands, marketers, or advertisers," Goodstein said.

"I think the emphasis on stranger danger is keeping young people in their own segregated worlds online," she said.

Many parents have no idea what MySpace or Facebook look like, let alone how these sites function, she said.

To close the digital gap, Goodstein offers the following recommendations to parents:

  1. Ask your kids where they hang out online: Have them show you favorite sites and games, and help you build a profile or avatar.
  2. Ask about privacy settings: Find out if their profile is public.
  3. Be their guide: Help them evaluate and find credible sources for homework.
  4. Set limits: Tell them when to turn it off and limit multitasking when studying.
  5. Teach cyberethics: Talk about plagiarism and cheating and the public nature of the Web.
  6. Keep the computer in a central space until the child is 16 or until trust is established.
  7. Be your child's online "friend."
  8. Know their buddies and insist on going with them to meet online friends.
  9. advertisement
  10. Encourage them to communicate bad incidents.
  11. Talk about appropriate use.
  12. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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