Google+ opened its doors to the public in September 2011. There had been an insane demand for membership during the field test period. Initially the membership was limited to those above 18. The service was an integration of Google Profiles, Circles, Hangouts and Sparks.
I was a bit apprehensive of the safety of the teens who were gearing up to join this service for it meant fabricating age, and exposure to unknown elements online. But on January 27, 2012, PC World reported that Google+ will formally open its portal to all who are 13 or older. It added that to ensure the safety of the teens on this social network, Google was enhancing its safety features. The main aim of these security measures would be to offer kids a platform to express their views but restrict them from over- sharing. I must admit I rather liked this concept. Teens today are vocal and they need to speak out and vent their feelings. It is a good platform for them to forge friendship with peers sharing similar views, especially if they are shy or introvert.In fact, their status updates can help parents and teachers get an insight into their mental conditions. If teens can continue their sharing and socializing on the net safely, there’s nothing like it.
So I eagerly checked out the enhanced safety features.
a) Google Profile:The teen version has default settings that limit sharing to people in your circles. You can of course change these settings at any time. Some fields, like name and photo can be viewed by the public, though education, status notifications, and relationship status will only be visible to the Circle members only
b) Hangouts:This is a great way to connect with others face to face. If someone the child doesn’t know or like joins a conversation, G+ will ask if the child wants to continue or exit without interacting with the new attendee
c) Circle: Refers to the child’s chosen group of friends, who would be able to connect with him/her and exchange views. Posts would be limited to the Circle only.Public can’t join the teen circles without invitation
However, even the most stringent measure can be bypassed. Children will discover ways to skirt these controls and contact undesirable people.
And this is where you parents step in:
1)If your13 year old wants to join G+, give permission only after helping him/her to join the teen circle
2) Install security software like McAfee Total Protection so that you can exercise parental controls and receive alerts on their online activities
3) Find out more about G+, like circles, hangouts, and who can see the posts or contact the teens
4) Set sharing and chatting limits in collaboration with your child. You must simultaneously decide on penalties for breach of rule for it implies a breach of trust
What should you tell your teen to keep in mind?
1) You should connect with only those you know in person and can trust. You must also keep your parents in the know about the friends in your circle
2) Sharing involves trust. You might share thoughts and opinions with someone you think you can trust. But that person might reshare with others without prior permission. Worse still, they might take screenshots and share private messages with strangers. So be careful of who you share with in the first place and mark messages specially if they are not meant for sharing
3) Ignore people who want to pull you into their Circles but whom you don’t want to interact with and block those who bother you. Inform parents about them
4) If you are frustrated with someone or something, it’s a good idea to write it as a note to yourself instead of publishing it online and regretting the act later
5) If you or a friend face abuse on G+ confide in an adult you trust immediately.
6) Don’t make the error of believing everyone you meet or everything you read on the net
Study has shown that children often don’t confide in parents if they have faced explicit or unwanted attention on the net. A McAfee commissioned report on kids’ online behaviour also points to the fact that the incidence of secrecy is higher among the older age group of 13-17 years, 42% of who do not openly share their online activities with their parents. So it is necessary to talk to them frequently about the dangers involved and establish a relationship of trust and openness to encourage them to confide in you.
Happy surfing folks!