New research shows parents with teen daughters who are on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter should keep a close eye on who their daughters are communicating on via the web.
Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio found that around 30% of teen girls have met with people in real life that they met online.
The study monitored 256 teen girls between the ages of 14 and 17 years old.
LaQuita Crutcher and her 16-year-old daughter Caitlyn are both active on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
Crutcher and her daughter have an open relationship that includes communication about what Caitlyn does online.
“I can always talk to her,” Caitlyn said. “It is easier to talk to her.”
LaQuita Crutcher added, “I don't crowd her or anything like that and in turn she gives me information without me having to ask for it.”
That kind of open communication is key to protecting teens from online dangers like predators, according to Dr. Mary Romano.
Romano specializes in adolescent medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School. She also treats teens at Vanderbilt's clinic at 100 Oaks.
“I think teenagers have grown up just saturated by the Internet and communicating via the Internet,” she said. “It's important for parents, teachers and health care professionals to stress the difference between what is an appropriate in-person conversation and what is an appropriate text message.”
Romano said parents should set clear expectations about online behavior before their child starts logging on to the web or social media sites.
“When you find out your child is having some inappropriate Facebook relationships your probably too late to intervene,” she said. “You almost have to start talking to them about the Internet like you would about driving, sexual activity or drugs.
She continued, “Have very clear guidelines and say this is how you can come to me for help.”
One way is by having teens sign a family Internet safety contract.
The contract spells out how many hours a week a teen can be online, who they will communicate with and a promise to report inappropriate contact from people online.
“Lets be honest, at the end of the day supervision is your best prevention,” Dr. Romano said. “The computer should be in a public place where you can casually glance over your teenager's shoulder and see what they are looking at.”
Dr. Romano said parents also have to become Internet savvy, not only to social media sites but the online language teens often speak.
Crutcher and her daughter are friends on Facebook and often talk about who Caitlyn is communicating with via social media.
“Sit down and talk to your child on a daily basis ask them how their day was it makes them more comfortable to come to you to give out that information,” LaQuita Crutcher said.
The study also found teen girls who posted risque pictures were more likely to meet with people offline they met online.