4. Don't prohibit use of social sites. Though you may want to forbid your teen from using social networking sites outright, doing so probably isn't the best strategy, notes Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center. "There are really more positive aspects of social networking sites than negative, although we tend to focus on the negative," she says. For example, the sites can help teens maintain contact with friends and family; they can be good outlets for teens who think they lack offline support; and they can help teens explore their identities as they navigate adolescence, says Mitchell. Moreover, since social networking sites are likely to be a permanent fixture in our culture, it's best to help teens learn to use them safely "instead of making broad claims about dangers and prohibiting use, which teens will not relate to and likely ignore," she says.
5. Create a profile. Ask your teen to help you create your own social networking profile. It's a chance to learn the ins and outs of a site while providing an opportunity to model how you'd like your teen to behave online. Explain why you're not going to post that photograph of you on the family vacation because of how your boss might interpret it. "You can lead by example by saying, 'I'm going to think about all the different people who can look at this,'" says Moreno. Then, of course, you can add your teen to your list of "friends." Though she may shield certain aspects of her profile from your view—Facebook, for example, allows users to block certain people from seeing certain things—doing so will help adolescents be conscientious of who's in their circle of viewers, says Moreno. You can also use this as a jumping-off point for discussing who her online friends are. Some teens may accept a stranger's "friendship" to bloat their friend list in the name of cyber-popularity. (Who has 886 friends, anyway?)
6. Intervene. If teens don't seem to be listening, take a cue from "Dr. Meg"— an online profile invented by Moreno (for a second study) to see if E-mails from a concerned doctor could spur teens to buff up their lurid profiles. It worked, specifically where references to sex were concerned: Teens who got an E-mail were three times more likely to remove all sex references than those who didn't. "Some teens didn't get what 'public' really meant," says Moreno. "Other teens suggested that they didn't think that anyone outside their few friends ever viewed their profile."
7. But ... use "adult language," not Internet lingo, when interacting. If you plan to send an electronic message to teens, spare them the cyber-speak, note Mitchell and her co-author in an editorial appearing in this month's Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. While their message is aimed at health professionals and researchers, parents can glean some insight. "There is no need for us to try to appropriate youth lingo," they wrote. "Instead of 'R U thinking,' write 'are you thinking.' Youth expect adults to talk like adults."
8. Skip the monitoring software. Yes, software exists that can monitor every single keystroke, says Willard, but unless a teen has significantly misbehaved—i.e., they've bullied someone online or worse—she urges parents not to use it. "It's an incredible violation of privacy," she says. "They'll lose trust." Discussion is preferable. (And if you need to peep, she sees nothing wrong with reviewing the Web browser's history file.)
9. Encourage your kid to bring up problems. Let teens know that if they encounter any sort of uncomfortable situation online—from a peer posting something they don't like to being bullied or sexually harassed—that they can come and talk to you. Let them know that you aren't going to give them a hard time but that you're just going to support and help them, says Moreno. (What to do if your child is bullied online.)
10. Bottom line: Be engaged. "Be actively and positively involved with your kids in the real world and online," says Willard, "because they're posting stuff that relates to their real-world activities."