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Teens & Talk: The Lure of Instant Messaging

DO set some ground rules (or at least talk about) instant messaging and homework. Some experts advise parents to ban IM-ing until after assignments are completed. Others argue that in today's world, multi-tasking is a norm. Be clear about whether your teen can indeed chat with four friends at the same time she's writing a term paper on Mayan civilization.

DO make it a house rule: Teens can only send and receive instant messages from people they know.

DO talk with teens about the nature of real friendship. As Professor Turkle puts it, "The best friendships are when you really know a lot about the other person, have done a lot of things together, and can share your feelings openly." The online experience can be one way to deepen a friendship, but it shouldn't be the only form a friendship takes.

DON'T feel intimidated by technology. For perhaps the first time in history, many children know more than their parents do about an important aspect of life. But parents who are awed by their kids' online proficiency are less likely to exercise proper oversight.

DON'T ignore warning signs. If your son or daughter is socially withdrawn, has trouble making friends, or seems to prefer online chat to face-to-face relationships, it may make sense to impose restrictions on computer time, or even to seek professional help.

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