Social Networking And Kids: The Top 5 Factors To Consider
By Katie LeClerc Greer
Lately it’s almost impossible to go a day without hearing about social networking in some form. Whether it’s a new movie that’s come out, a co-worker discussing the latest outrageous blog post they read, advertisements on television, or worst of all, our kids begging us for an account because “all of my friends have it!”
For a parent who may or may not understand social networking sites this can be a worrisome situation. It’s my experience that parents fall into two distinct categories when it comes to dealing with this dreaded request.
The first category is the “Close-My-Eyes and Jump In Parent”. They’re horrified that this day has come, and find themselves ill-prepared to dive into the social networking world.
Since these parents have avoided social networking for so long, they’ll close their eyes, hold their breath, give into this request and hope for the best. In their minds millions of people (kids included) are doing this already, if the family down the street let their daughter have a social networking account, they assume their child will be just fine.
If there’s ever any doubt that this may not be a great idea, they assure themselves that their child is a “good kid” and that he/she will know what to do if a bad situation arises.
The second category is the “Never Ever Parent”. These parents have seen (and focused on) all of the bad things that can and have happened on social networking sites. They know there are required age limits to join social networking sites, and no matter how much begging and pleading their children do, they will not give in.
They have seen others be consumed by social networking, and don’t understand why it takes up so much time, but do know that their kids won’t be participating.
It is important to understand all parenting types, and recognize that every household will be run differently. However, it’s imperative that parents make educated decisions when it comes to social networking and their children.
While social networking sites can be complicated, there are also wonderful aspects to them. Even if we take them all down tomorrow something else would come along (and there would be over 500,000,000 angry customers).
The realistic approach is asking ourselves, “How do we, as parents, make the right decisions about our kids participating in social networking?” There are so many options, which change daily, so what is the right choice?
The parent decision making process will inevitably vary depending on the household, but here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when making decisions for your family:
1. Understand Age Requirements
Many social networking sites have specific age requirements. It is imperative that you (and your children) follow these requirements.
Many of the larger and more popular social networking sites have a minimum age requirement of 13. If your child is not at least 13, it is a violation of the company’s terms of service, which could result in trouble for you and your child.
2. Set Guidelines
Like anything else in life, we set guidelines to protect our children because studies show that their brains aren’t yet developed enough to make the best decisions on their own.
Social networking sites are no different. If you are going to allow your children to participate, make sure there are rules and limitations set, as well as consequences for non-compliance defined. Rules could include things like:
• Specifying the amount of time per day your kids are allowed to be on social networking sites
• Specifying the time of day your kids are allowed to be on these sites (rarely anything good happens after 10PM)
• Defining what sites they’re allowed to use and which ones are off limits
• Make sure your child gives you their username and password; not for snooping purposes, but to ensure their safety.
3. Look Around
Not that kids are liars, but it’s your parental duty to “check-up” on things that they’ve told you. Growing up, our parents used to call our friend’s parents to make sure there was, in fact, a parent present at the sleepover.
This should be no different when it comes to your kids participating in social networking sites. Ask questions, who are their friends with on this site? How many friends do they have? These pieces of information are important to understand, no child (or adult for that matter) should have hundreds of thousands of friends on these sites.
It’s important that kids (and adults) are only befriending people they personally know, and parents need to ensure this is happening. Checking out your child’s profile is not snooping if you’re looking to keep them safe – it’s being a good parent.
4. Ally Yourselves With Other Parents
Other parents can be an awesome resource! If you don’t want your kids using certain social networking sites, let other parents know. While it may be OK in their household, it may not be OK in yours, so let this be known.
Perhaps other parents don’t know about the age limitations, you could take this opportunity to (casually and politely) enlighten them. If your kids are participating on these sites, discuss with other parents ways that you can work together to make sure that your kids are making good decisions.
An open-door policy between parents is always best; agreeing to let each other know if you observe a child’s negative behavior on these sites is tough, but important.
5. It’s OK to Be Confused
These sites can be extremely overwhelming and confusing. However, the worst thing we can do for our kids is close our eyes and hope for the best. Decisions parents make in their households are personal; however, make sure you gather all the facts before making these decisions.
If you don’t know how Facebook works, ask! Truth be told, your child may be the best one to ask questions to, and it could turn out to be a great learning experience for both of you.
Kids are hard-wired to understand how all of this technology works with no manuals or instructions; it’s all learn-as-you-go, use them as a resource to educate yourself. It would be difficult to teach a kid how to speak a foreign language if we ourselves don’t speak it.
So learn. You don’t have to fall in love with social networking, but if you read up and ask around, you may be surprised what you find, while at the same time getting the tools you need to better protect your children.
Learning about the world of social networking can be intimidating, but it’s important for parents to learn and understand the basics in order to keep their kids safe.
© Katie LeClerc Greer is the former Internet Safety Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, and former Intelligence Analyst for the Massachusetts State Police. Her nationally recognized Internet/technology safety programs have been delivered to thousands of students, parents, school staff and law enforcement agencies around the country.
Katie is the Director of Content and Internet Safety at www.WhatsWhat.Me, a “kids-only” Website that provides safe, secure social networking for kids ages 7 to 13 (“tweens”) and utilizes patent-pending facial recognition technologies, moderation and kid-friendly features. WhatsWhat.me (Beta) is compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and fosters an age-appropriate, “no-bullying allowed” community while teaching positive online behavior, Internet safety and related life skills.
Internet Safety Resources For Parents:
- 101 Internet .Safety .Tips For Kids – Discover how you can safeguard your kids from all the evil threats on the internet, so you can put away “those worries” for good. This revolutionary system provides parents with complete piece of mind for the safety of your children. Learn simple sophisticated steps that anyone can put into action in a few minutes.
- Make Your Child Predator-Proof – 1 in 5 children are Sexually Solicited while on the Internet. Do you know how to keep your kids safe, both online and in person? 90% of the time or more, the predators are KNOWN to kids. Learn how to protect your kids from the advances of predators.
- KidsWatch™ Parental .Control Software – Safeguard your child’s’ Internet experience and maximize the efficiency of the time they spend on the computer.