By Abbi Perets

Teens are all about locked doors and privacy in the physical world, but they may not understand the long-term implications that an online privacy policy can have on their lives. Yet ignoring privacy settings in the social media world is a mistake that can have serious consequences. Here are five things your teen needs to understand about Facebook and privacy.

1. Protecting users’ privacy is not the goal of social media sites.

Today’s teens are growing up in a world where free content is the norm. Help them understand that on Facebook and other sites, they themselves are the product. Facebook makes money off the photos, statuses and tags that users post on the site, so they want people to share more information rather than less.

What to do: Explain to your teens why they should take the time to review privacy policies before signing up for sites. Encourage them to ask a trusted adult to review their profiles for any privacy/sharing red flags. And for sites other than Facebook, at a minimum, tell them to Google “[site’s name]” and “privacy.”

2. Facebook’s “recommended” privacy settings are in Facebook’s best interest.

Default privacy settings could expose personal information to the wrong people. For starters, teens should never display their full birthdates anywhere online, and they should think carefully about who can access and share other personal information. Broadcasting the details of their lives leaves them ripe for identity theft and can put them in physical danger too.

What to do: Help your teen customize the privacy settings. Information should be available only to specific groups of friends, never to “everyone” or “friends of friends.” ConnectSafely has a helpful chart that walks teens through Facebook privacy settings.

3. Friends don’t let friends check them in.

One social aspect of Facebook is the ability of other people to check you into locations, thus broadcasting your physical location — or claiming that you’re someplace when you’re not. Checking into locations is unsafe on several levels: It lets people know that you’re not at home and makes your home a target for break-ins, and it makes it easy for others to track your movements. It may be no big deal if your teen’s best friend knows where she is, but does she want her ex-boyfriend to have that information too?

What to do: Ensure that your teens have set “Places I check into” to “Only Me,” and disabled “Include me in ‘People Here Now’ after I check in” and “Friends can check me in to Places.”

4. Passwords should be private.

A November 2011 report from the Pew Research Center found a whopping 47 percent of online girls ages 14-17 say they have shared their passwords; 27 percent of boys the same age admitted sharing passwords. Sharing passwords exposes teens to identity theft. And if, like many people, they reuse passwords on other sites such as a banking site, the exposure could have long-term financial ramifications.

What to do: Advise your teen to never, ever share passwords with anyone (except their parents, if they’re younger than 18).

5. If you’re not friends, you shouldn’t be “friends.”

There’s no reason to accept friend requests from strangers — or even from friends of friends. Allowing random strangers to access photos, updates and other information is unwise because it’s impossible to know the intentions of strangers.

What to do: Tell your teen to ignore requests from people they don’t know personally. They shouldn’t feel bad about ignoring a friend request that isn’t from a real-life friend.

Abbi Perets has been writing about technology, parenting, health care, kitchen gadgets and other topics for the last 15 years. Her work has been featured in numerous print and online publications.

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