Social Media And Kids: New Web, New Opportunities, New Risks

10/20/2011 11:11 am ET | Updated Dec 20, 2011

The new online environment our children live in requires a different style of parenting.

The reality of the social web is that parents cannot completely control where and when their kids get access to, or post, certain sensitive information on topics like sex, drugs, violence, racism etc., so we require new tools that parents before us never needed.

There is a strong temptation for kids to share anything and everything online in order to get the greatest return from a social network. This is generally innocent in nature, but as parents we need to teach our kids how to safely use social networking without over-sharing information that can lead to hurtful or dangerous situations. And, for those times when kids will inevitably over-share personal information, we need to be aware and armed with the information to educate both our kids and ourselves about how to address the challenges and risks.

According to two recent research studies conducted by SocialShield, parents get this. With 50 percent of all 11-year-olds now in possession of social network accounts, nearly half of the parents who participated in our survey strongly agreed that social network "monitoring goes hand in hand with parental guidance, so when I find out something bad I can use the opportunity to explain to my child why it's bad, so he/she doesn't repeat the same mistakes."

The Need for New Best Practices and New Safety Tools

As wonderful as the new social/mobile web is -- and don't get me wrong: the vast majority of it opens up terrific new forms of entertainment, communications, and positive engagement -- it also brings along new risks, just like when your kid takes the car for the first time.

That's why, once again, we have the need for a new set of parenting best practices to help keep our children safer; teach them when, where, and how to post what kind of information; instruct them when to sense risk or danger; and show them what to do about it.

We also need to explore:

• Specific networks and websites, so we know which are generally "safe," and which are generally "risky," and how to manage our privacy and information on each of them.

• Best practices for both the social and mobile Web. What to do and what not to do. And how to spot dangers, and how to respond to them.

• The types of protective tools and assistance available to parents for the social/mobile web, as well as related technologies that are emerging.

• The types of "apps" that are available on mobile devices; what to look for in assessing the relative safety of an "app"; and how to adjust our phone's setting for the appropriate safety and privacy level.

• Actual true stories of the types of abuses and dangers that can occur, and what signs to look for regarding our children's activities.

• Questions from concerned parents, and answers from experts.

• And many other topics of value and interest regarding this exciting -- but risky -- new online and mobile world.

What's important for you to know? What do you need to understand better? This is new terrain for all of us and it is my goal to help other parents learn about the challenges so they can decide how they want to incorporate into their parent style. I'll be posting regularly on HuffPost Parents, and want to hear from you and answer your questions. Stay tuned. There's much more to come.

George Garrick is a parent of three teens, successful technology leader and CEO of SocialShield, an online monitoring service dedicated to helping parents keep their kids safe on Facebook and other social networks.