It's not unusual for parents to have mixed feelings about social networking. While kids enjoy the opportunities for interaction social networking presents, many parents have legitimate concerns. The online world is one that needs to be navigated carefully, and parents can play an important role in teaching their children to safely and gracefully navigate the world of social networking.
Common Social Networking Concerns
According to a 2012 Reuters Ipsos poll, 12 percent of parents say their child has experienced cyberbullying. Likewise, the Cyberbullying Research Center reports that about 20 percent of kids report experiencing some type of cyberbullying. With statistics like that, it's clear that cyberbullying is an issue among youth and teens, and social networking sites provide the perfect place for such incidents to take place.
Anyone Can Sign Up
While many social networking websites have some supervisory controls in place, for the most part it is up to the user to protect himself or herself from offensive posts and/or dangerous contacts. Because of the sheer number of people using social networking websites (Facebook has more than a billion users worldwide), it is impossible to screen and monitor each participant.
Lack of Supervision
Due to the sheer volume of people engaged in social networking, these websites are often a free-for-all. While most sites do allow users to report offensive posts, it may take quite some time before administrators are able to respond to such reports. In the meantime, your child may be exposed to something you don't want him or her to see.
Loss of Privacy
Participating in social networking can make children easier to find via a simple Web search, and this concerns many parents. Children may unintentionally share too much information about themselves or their family members. Location services may be of particular concern, because they allow your child to "check in" at a specific location to tell people where they are and how to find them.
Potential for Reputation Damage
Children and teens often lack the personal filters necessary to know what is and isn't appropriate on social networking. If your child or teen posts the wrong photograph or makes an inappropriate comment, it can follow him or her for years to come.
Dateline NBC's To Catch a Predator series of investigative reports shined a light on some of the dangers of social networking and online interaction for kids and teens. Many parents fear predators and stalkers online. This is why it is so important to follow basic Internet safety precautions, not only for Internet usage, but for social networking as well. While not every person is someone with bad intentions, there are many people on social networking websites who aren't who they say they are.
Waste of Time
Even adults are susceptible to spending far too much time on their social networking sites. Many parents are concerned their children will spend time on social networking they could be using to do homework, exercise, or interact with people in the real world.
Safety Tips for Children and Social Networking
Social networking has become a societal reality. Children and teens commonly use these sites to interact, as do adults With social networking such an important part of youth social culture, it can be extremely difficult to completely keep your kids away from social networks. Instead, it is better to allow your kids age-appropriate access to social network while teaching them to use them safely and responsibly.
To help your children learn to be responsible social network users:
- Set an example. Your children will mirror your behaviors, so be a good online citizen and limit the time you spend on social networks.
- Only allow your children to sign up for age-appropriate social networks. Most social networking sites, unless they are specifically targeted for kids, set the minimum age limit to hold an account at 13. Do not allow your kids to join early.
- Make joining your kids' social network part of the requirement for their participation. However, use that connection to monitor and not to interact. Many kids and teens are embarrassed by their parents online, so avoid commenting on their posts, tagging them in posts and photos, and other "humiliating" parental behaviors.
- Regularly discuss social networking responsibility and online safety with your children.
- Let your children know they can always come to you if they have any concerns about their social networks.
- Don't allow children to have computers in their bedrooms. Instead, keep the computer in a busy and centralized location in the house.
- Don't forget that many mobile phones and tablets have social networking applications. It's important to monitor your children's use of social networking on mobile devices as well as computers.
- Monitor the privacy and parental control settings on your kids' social networks, and stay abreast of changes.
- Disable location and GPS services so your children are unable to check in at specific locations.
- Know and check all of the usernames and passwords that your children use.
- Keep a printed history of your children's activities online.
- Monitor your childrens' contact lists and ensure they know the people they communicate with on social networks.
- Teach your children what information it is okay to share online and which isn't. Urge them to keep ALL personal information offline.
- Set aside only a certain time period when your children are allowed online, or limit the time they can spend online.
Into the Future
Social networking is here to stay. It is a medium that changes quickly, with new social networking opportunities springing up on a regular basis. By teaching your children responsible use of social networks today, however, you will be laying the foundation for responsible and safe social networking use throughout their lives.