Parents in Action: Real vs. online friends

In 2010, 93% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 had regular access to the Internet with most of those children getting online more than once a week. In an age where making "friends" online is easier than ever, helping your kids understand the difference between real and online friends will help create lifelong friendships and keep themselves safe online.

A recent study found that although the Internet has allowed us (including tweens and teens) to increase the number of people we communicate with, the overall number of true friends that people can trust and confide has dropped exponentially. The issue takes on significant relevance for middle schoolers who battle with identity issues, including peer pressure and the issues of friendships.

What's the Difference
Before taking the step of allowing your kids access to sites and online communities like blogs, specifically sites that allow communication between users, talk about the differences between real and Internet friends. Discuss how real friends are people and peers you know in real life; from school, church and other activities. Internet friends are people they know little or nothing about but interact with using the family computer.

To help your kids understand the core foundation of real friendships make sure they comprehend characteristics that make up a good friend like trustworthy and honest. Try providing an example of a friend of yours and talk about what makes that friendship special.

Safety and Limitations
Once you're sure the kids understand the difference between real and online friends take time to set up rules and limitations of Internet use. It's incredibly important that your kids know that anyone can go online, even bad people who might be looking to hurt them. Some good online rules to put in place are; 1) Any communication with a stranger must be approved by mom or dad, 2) Never share personal information about yourself, and 3) Don't write or say anything online that you wouldn't say in front of your parents. For a full online rule list,

Create a time schedule of when and where your kids can use the computer. Also, make sure to limit which sites they can visit. And most importantly, make sure kids know that all online activity will be tracked and supervised by mom and dad at all times.

Encourage Real Friendships
The best way to help your kids create friendship with real friends is by encouraging them to get outside and play. You can also throw a little get-together every now and then for your kids at your home. Not only will be helping your kids grow friendships it give you a chance to meet and see who your child's friends are. Another great way to help your kids meet new people is through after school activities like sports, performing arts and group music lessons.


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