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Web sites your kids use that you should know about

In full disclosure, this list comes from a company that wants to sell you computer security software. Still, the list of sites is interesting. You might ask your digitally savvy children and teens if they’re using these sites and talk to them about how to stay safe. A web site in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad, but how the sites are used could put your child at risk.

Formspring A social networking site in which users can anonymously post comments about other people. Gossip and insults can flourish unchecked. As a result, Formspring can be a breeding ground for cyberbullying and has been linked to a case on Long Island in which 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington committed suicide.  Due to the site’s anonymity, it can be particularly cruel and fall below parental radar.

Chat Roulette A social networking site in which users are randomly matched with strangers around the world to engage in webcam-based conversations.  According to a March 2010 survey conducted by RJMetrics, 13 percent of its users are either nude or appear to be engaging in a lewd act. Parents should be aware of a similar, popular site called Omegle.

Stickam Features live-streaming video, audio, images and video chat. With more than 4 million members and content from networks such as MTV, G4 and CBS, the site seems to be reputable. However, kids can easily access inappropriate content and authorities have documented cases of sexual predators using the site. In October 2009, The New York Times reported three predator arrests linked to the site.

4chan A digital bulletin board in which users can anonymously post comments and share images.  The site made headlines in 2008 when one of its members allegedly hacked into then-Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s e-mail account.  4chan’s members also organized an “attack” against YouTube by posting hundreds of sexually explicit videos within a short period of time.  Along with teen gossip site StickyDrama, 4chan is also credited with the recent popularity of Jessi Slaughter, the 11-year-old girl who endured extreme forms of cyberbullying after posting a slew of emotional YouTube videos.

Foursquare A location-based game in which users identify where they’re located in return for virtual badges such as “Mayor” and “Super Mayor.”  Foursquare (and a similar site called Gowalla) are apps that are primarily accessed via cell phones. They can be addictive and dangerous, since your kids could be revealing their physical locations to strangers. If your child is on a family phone plan, you can set up restrictions to disable their cell phones from downloading any apps like this one.

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