The debate of whether parents should allow their children to be a member of social networking sites is one that is hot and heated. Humans are social by nature and since ‘everyone is doing it’ it can be difficult to defend a no social networking allowed stance with your child. Most psychologists have found that trying to keep your kids offline can do more damage than good, especially if they see you updating your Facebook status on the regular. Having said that, there are many things to consider and put into place when introducing your children to social networking. Here is the least you need to know.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Most parents shy away from social networking sites for their children because there are dangers lurking around every corner. These dangers are real, so parents should be concerned. However, when taking the leap to allowing your child to make their presence online known, also keep in mind that there are many benefits for your child as well if the right precautions are taken.
First your child should be age appropriate and almost every social media site requires you to be 13 years or older to join. As a parent you can choose to allow your child to join sooner than that (you will have to set up the account for them) but that is an individual decision that should be based on your child and their trustworthiness. These guidelines are placed by The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and thus it is thought that 13 is a reasonable age for your child to be able to handle an online forum in a responsible way.
Social networking is important for both adults and children because it is interactive and there are many things to be learned along the way both personally and culturally. Since much of our lives are dependent on technology, these sites are a great way to teach children how to communicate effectively, stay in touch with out of area family members and to learn how to be a part of a large community. This may be especially true for those children who are shy as it can teach them social and interaction skills in the comfort of their own home; skills that you hope will eventually spill over into daily life.
The ugly side of social media sites is that predators know they are the perfect place to shop for their victims and this includes obtaining your children’s personal information for fraud cases, illegal behavior such as pornography and the more recent and tragic cases of online bullying.
Keeping It Safe
Although dangers are real, parents have many options when it comes to allowing your children to be online in a safe and productive manner.
It may be a good idea to start your child on a social media site that is geared specifically for children or those under 13 first before allowing them to join Twitter or Facebook. Site such as Whatswhatsme.com and Yoursphere.com are specifically designed for kids under the teen years and have built in and additional safety guards to protect your kids from adults with ill intentions.
These sites can introduce your children to how social media sites work, how to join into chat rooms, share status updates and upload appropriate pictures all within a safe realm, and away from adult conversations.
Fanlala.com is another social networking site for kids under 13 and it works and ids designed much like MySpace. Here young kids can chat and socialize, participate or start their own blogs, share files and pictures and has other group activities. They also have articles on safe behaviors and rules of social media and very strict policies on cyber bullying.
The Big Social Media Sites
Even for those who are age appropriate for Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, there are still things that need to be in place before you let your children run rampant. If parents spend the time to have conversations with their kids and teach and instill proper behaviors while online, social media sites and children can go hand in hand.
Talk to Your Children
Before you allow your children to join these sites, a series of conversations need to take place. Explain in detail what dangers are involved in on these sites and caution them about how important it is to keep their personal information such as addresses, phone numbers and birthdates private and off line.
Also explain in detail what is and isn’t appropriate as far as pictures, music lyrics and overall conversations that happen online. This includes monitoring the pictures they post and having a no bullying policy.
Every social media site is equipped with password protection and yes, your child should have one. However all bets are off when it comes to them not telling you what those passwords are. This is an argument that many children have with their parents and they should always lose this battle.
Kids want to have independence and autonomy but in the teen years this is not appropriate. Parents need to have access to their children’s pages so that they can be monitored regularly. Explain to your child that this isn’t about you being nosey; it’s about protecting them and making sure that they are being responsible. If they aren’t willing to share their password, that is a deal breaker.
It will also behoove parents to set some ground rules as far as how much time is spent on these sites. Make the guidelines apparent and stick to them. Children need boundaries and this is also true when it comes to social media sites.
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