Is your teen on Facebook? Do you worry about your teen's safety while online? Do you wonder who sees her information, or who she is "friending" or instant messaging? Do you wonder what your teen's "friends" are saying to him, or about him, via their Facebook pages? With recent reports regarding Facebook harassment, and assaults of children caught on tape and then posted on social network sites, every parent should be concerned.

When I agreed earlier this year to let my 13-year-old open a Facebook account, I proceeded with caution because of my concerns. I activated the account for her using a family email account and told her that I would always have access to her pages (there would be no secret passwords and no right to privacy if she wished to be on Facebook). I set up her security settings to ensure that only people she chose as friends could view her information. In addition, I blocked her phone number and address from being viewed by anyone (see Facebook Tip #1 below), figuring if they don't already have it, they must not be really close friends; and since her Facebook page tells me she has 227 friends, most of whom I've never met, I know that's true

In this age of technology and over-sharing, I have tried to stay on top of her activity on Facebook by having her as a "friend" and by periodically logging in to her account to read what she and her "friends" are posting. If I see posts by her Facebook friends that I find objectionable, I tell her. In some cases I've hidden their posts if the friend's inappropriate comments or postings were frequent (see Facebook Tip #2). I have not yet forced a removal of a friend, but that could come.

A favorite among teens on Facebook is to share photos and videos with friends. And with most kids owning cell phones these days, recording and sharing is that much easier. Maybe you are careful to make sure that the photos your teen posts are acceptable and innocent. But what if your teens send suggestive photos to their friends, boyfriends, or girlfriends on their cell phones? Well, not only can those photos be sent to others, they can also be posted to Facebook. And from there, they can go viral. And if your teen is foolish enough to share intimate or nude photos (whether they are of themselves or not), they could possibly be charged with distributing child pornography.

A horrific example was in the news recently, when images were reportedly posted and shared on Facebook of a 16-year-old girl being gang raped in a Canadian field after she was believed to have been drugged at a rave. According to authorities, they have been unable to contain the spread of the video on Facebook. And they are considering charges against those who may have shared the video. Far worse, though, is the prolonged victimization of this young girl. Tracy Clark-Flory, a blogger reporting on the story, wrote, "The online mentality is one of entitlement and total freedom, no one has ownership over anything .. .I would venture to say that it hasn't even occurred to many of the kids - the ones who are not, you know, patently evil - that they are violating this girl themselves."

Another troubling trend is that some teens have turned to social networking sites to bully, intimidate, harass, and embarrass other teens. Cyberbullying, an unknown phenomenon not long ago, is increasing with teens using the internet, and specifically social networking sites, to bully and harass other teens. A recent report by NBC10 News in Philadelphia indicated that Vineland High School students were being targeted on Facebook. According to the teen victims, others were copying their Facebook profile pictures and posting them next to humiliating remarks described as sexual, degrading, and hateful.

With bullying comes fear and humiliation. What's worse, unlike back in my day when the humiliation was contained - witnessed only by those in the immediate vicinity - the intimidation and harassment can be viewed by an entire school district within minutes when posted on social networking sites. The result, I would presume, is greater emotional harm to the victims of this type of bullying - humiliation times hundreds. In fact, all it takes is a glance at the website homepage of cyberbullying.us for one to see the number of articles on high rates of depression among teen victims of cyberbullying. Indeed, the national media has reported instances of teens committing suicide over cyberbullying incidents.

Another risk associated with these sites is the potential for your child's exposure to people they do not know. In addition to a host of privacy settings, Facebook treats accounts managed by those under the age of 18 a little differently by not allowing their personal information and profiles to be viewed in internet searches or by anyone on Facebook who has not been accepted as a "friend." The important thing to remember, though, is to teach your teen to not accept a "friend request" from anyone that they do not know. Facebook also recommends utilizing their "Block This Person" feature to stop abusive behavior and to report any abuse directly to Facebook using their "Report" link. I found their Safety Center contained a wealth of excellent information and tools to help parents guide their teens on the proper way to use Facebook. I highly recommend checking out their Safety Center paying particular attention to the sections for parents and teens (see Facebook Tip #3).

The internet age has changed the way we must parent. I recommend monitoring your teen's Facebook account regularly and communicate with them the importance of safety in the online community. They should be reminded to be respectful of others, be careful what they share, and to report to adults when they see or experience abuses online.

FACEBOOK TIPS:

1. Go to Account; click on Privacy Settings; go to Sharing and click on Custom and then Customize Settings; scroll down to Contact Information and change from "Everyone" to "Only Me." Be sure to thoroughly go through all sections to set privacy and safety settings, including "Applications and Websites"

2. Wave mouse over the section immediately to the right of the post; click on the X when it appears; then click on the tab that says "Hide (name)"

3. Go to Account; click on Help Center; then look for the Safety icon on the far left