Ever wonder what the best way to keep your kids safe online is? Us too! That's why we're starting a 6-part series, Social Network Safety: A Parental Guide, written by a special guest blogger. Read Part I to find out the potential for abuse among teens and tune in for Part 2 next week.

Social Network Safety guest blogger: George Garrick

The rapid and exceptional growth of the social Web presents hundreds of millions of people with wonderful new capabilities and experiences; yet, like many great new Internet services that come along, it has the potential for abuse, especially among younger teens and pre-teens. But perhaps most scary is that younger teens and pre-teens are typically the victims of such abuse, whether it comes from fellow youths, or from adults who may or may not have a prior record of preying on children.

Parents, for their part, are especially concerned about all this, citing contact or solicitations from strangers as their greatest fear. While the dangers associated with being preyed upon by strangers are clear, concerns about online harassment, or “cyber-bullying,” as well as a number of other risks, such as disclosure of personal and/or family information, are close behind.

Indeed, in two national research surveys that my company, SocialShield, recently conducted, most parents revealed that they are, indeed, worried that social networks make their children vulnerable to potential dangers like contact from strangers, innocent disclosure of their children’s physical location, and other personal or private family information – often without the child realizing it, or having the judgment to determine what to post and what to keep private.

In fact, did you know that most photos posted by your child on a social network contain detailed information about where the photo was taken? This means that a person with devious intent can easily “map out” where your child, their family, and their friends typically hang out, right down to which corner of the playground your family prefers. (It’s easy to disable this feature, but most parents don’t know how.)

Also, many teens (and, of course, pre-teens), as well as many parents, do not realize that much of what is posted on networks like Facebook becomes “public” because anyone with a browser can see it – not just the user’s “friends.”  Again, you can restrict access to information with privacy settings, but many people don’t know how to properly use them.   And, in any event, a good “rule of thumb” is that you should never put anything on the Internet that you would not want the whole world to see. (Just ask a few celebrities, whose names I won’t mention.)

Other key areas of parental concern include: negative or improper content posted about their children, including possible reputation-damaging posts that could affect eligibility for colleges and jobs; exposure to inappropriate content on topics like sex, drugs, violence and racism; harassment, either by or against your child; and membership in “groups” or clubs with hateful or inappropriate themes such as anti-gay bias.

-- GEORGE GARRICK, CEO, SocialShield

SocialShield is an online monitoring service dedicated to helping parents keep their kids safe on Facebook and other social networks. www.socialshield.com