The Better Business Bureau recommends parents take specific steps to keep their kids safe online.
"Even though some parents may be intimidated by technology, they need to supervise their child's computer use in the house as well as educate their kids on how to play it safe online," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois.
According to iStrategy Labs the number of users on Facebook that are between the ages of 13 and 18 grew by 88 percent in 2009 to 10.7 million. While Facebook and MySpace require all users to be at least 13 years old, some sites are geared for children even younger.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips for parents who want to help keep their kids safe online:
* Explain the Difference Between Sharing and Oversharing - While social networking is about sharing photos, thoughts and experiences, explain to your kids that they should never share personal information such as phone numbers, address, bank account numbers, passwords or their Social Security numbers.
* Talk about what constitutes inappropriate photos or language and stress the fact that-while you may be able to delete them-you can never fully take them back.
* Set strict privacy settings - Social networking sites let users determine who they want to share information with. Talk to your child about restricting access to his or her profile to only friends or users in safe networks such as their school, clubs or church groups.
* Keep the channels of communication open - Let your kids know that you are always ready to talk if they are ever threatened, bullied or feel uncomfortable about an experience they had online.
* Federal law requires sites collecting identifying information from children under 13 to get a parent's consent first. Report concerns about data collection from children under 13 to the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus at www.caru.org/complaint.
* "'Never talk to strangers' applies online too. Even though chatting with a stranger online can seem harmless, the relationship can evolve and grow until the stranger has earned your child's trust-and can then exploit it," added Bernas.
You can learn more about how to keep your kids safe online at http://www.onguardonline.gov/topics/net-cetera.aspx
Parents can also learn how to keep themselves safe from ID thieves and hackers online at www.bbb.org