Will you be my friend? That is where it starts. Weblogs, wikis, forums, instant messaging, and email are all social technologies that share information and have online community formation. Therefore, there is a big concern with social networking web sites and keeping our children safe. There are a lot of sites like Facebook and MySpace that have age requirements, but are easily bypassed and no way to verify. Facebook and MySpace can be fun and safe environment for children of any age, with the proper education, maturity level, and parental supervision. How do we keep our children out of social networking danger? Are you wondering if you should let your child have a Facebook account? Or, are you curious why someone would allow their kid to be on Facebook? Well, the Internet isn’t innocent by any means. For Instance, there are stalkers, predators, rapists, and identity theft. On the other hand, there are nice things about MySpace and Facebook but they aren’t worth the risks, of the horrible things that can happen if your child isn’t careful.
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One big negative of Facebook is that it does create a safety risk. Children can encounter child predators, which has already happened to teens and children all over the world. Kids on Facebook could also be exposed to foul language, inappropriate adult talk and pictures, and R-rated content. In addition, they could become the victim of cyber-bullying, or become the bullies.
According to Mozelle Thompson, Facebook’s chief privacy adviser, told the Australian Federal Parliament’s cyber-safety committee:
There are people who lie. There are people who are under 13 [accessing Facebook]. Facebook removes 20,000 people a day, people who are underage. He adds that dealing with underage users is something the site works on all the time. (Tan)
In fact, the law provides some protection when it comes to children under the age of 13; it gives parents control over what information children can disclose. (Schaffhauser) To help protect children, there is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires parental consent before they can collect information and allows parents to view profiles. The Federal Trade Commission determines if the web site is directed toward children by the content and if they deem it is geared toward children, they must comply with The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. (COPPA) Another negative, is that children need to spend more time outside enjoying real life activities: hanging with their friends in the real world skating, playing ball, riding their bikes, and playing at the park. Hanging out in front of the computer is contributing to childhood obesity.
Consequently, being a parent comes with the responsibility of protecting and ensuring that our children are safe. Parents use to tell their kids not to talk to strangers, not to take candy from strangers, not to open the door for strangers are all well and good but now we have to add, watch out for strangers on the Internet. This can be proven to be even more dangerous, if we don’t monitor our children. Many kids on Facebook and MySpace post pictures, full name, addresses, and the school they attend and even cell phone numbers. Thus, all this information is easily accessible at the click of a button to anyone. These sites are providing child predators with the exact information they need to track down our kids, right at their own back yard.
In Feb. 2009, MySpace identified 90,000 registered sex offenders with profiles on the site, while Facebook declined to reveal how many were present on its site. (ProCon)Social networking sites can’t identify every sex offender. Therefore, parents can get software that can help monitor their children. Internet security firm Check Point released software that lets parents monitor their children on Facebook, it scans friends request and communications, and it alerts parents to certain words. Check Point vice president of consumer sales Bari Abdul said:
It’s about protecting your kids from the social threats out there, while still respecting their privacy and fostering open communication. We are offering Facebook users a simple way to embrace social networking safely. (Software)
Check Point cited a survey indicating that 38 percent of teenagers have ignored requests from parents to be friends on Facebook, and that 16 percent of children have only done so as a condition of using the social network.
However, some will argue, that with the proper adult guidance and monitoring, Facebook can be a safe and healthy place. Parents can set the account as private, and log in frequently to monitor their behavior. Or, they could even sit next to them and monitor them at all times while on the site. Also, there are some websites that have minimum age requirements to set up an account. MySpace, for example, requires users to be at least 14 years old, and the profiles of all users under the age of 16 are automatically set to “private” so they cannot be found during a general search. There some advantages of allowing a child to have a Facebook account.
It helps them become acquainted with using the computer and today’s technology. It can help children stay connected with their long-distance Grandma. They can get homework advice and can keep up with the happenings of other distant family. Also reported 50% of students with a social networking site, use it to discuss homework. (ProCon) In. addition, we can keep kids safe by letting them go on social network websites geared for children. Parents also hope that their children conduct themselves maturely online. While it is true, the newest problem with social networking is cyber bullying. While bullying certainly isn’t a new, cyber bullying is not a trend that is going to disappear any time soon. As personal computers, cell phones, and the Internet become more popular, the opportunity for teens and preteens to pick on each other grow. Up to 34% of children have been bullied or harassed online, One in seven children aged between 8 and 17 years old say they have come across harmful or inappropriate material online, and 57% of parents are unsure where to get information to help protect their children while online. (Assualt) Furthermore, depression is also an issue with cyber bullying. Cyber-bullying can cause a child to feel totally trapped, because the bully can appear anywhere. For example, a cyber bully can post mean or taunting messages on a teen’s Facebook page for everyone to see. A bully can set up a web page, blog, or other online presence that is against a particular peer. This mental anguish can result in depression and even suicide. Children need to let parents or a teacher know if they are victims. Children tend not to let parents know for fear of losing their Facebook or MySpace privileges. (Depression)
In truth, there is much debate among psychiatrist weather social networking is harmful to children. A psychiatrist at West London Mental Hospital by the name of Dr. Himanshu Tyagi, he believes that kids will find the real world boring, that everything happens much faster on the Internet. Also, those children are more vulnerable to impulsive behavior or even suicide. He thinks more research and investigations should be done on the subject. (Medical) Another study that was done reports that those who spend a large amount of time on social networking sites, including Facebook, were more likely to suffer from eating disorders. Teen girls that viewed unrealistic images of models were more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and develop conditions, such as bulimia and anorexia. Crash dieting was also common among adolescents who spent extended periods of time on social networking sites. (Researchers) Another study done by Ohio State University study back in 2009, says Facebook users had GPAs a full grade lower than non-users. On the other, hand author of “Grown up Digital” Don Tapscott is skeptical about the study’s findings. He goes on to say:
There isn’t a shred of evidence that Facebook is bad for young people. On the contrary, it’s a wonderful thing that, with balance, helps them grow, helps their mental abilities develop and it should be encouraged.
Following this further, the MacArthur Foundation also contradicts the idea held by many educators, parents and policymakers that children should be blocked from online social networks and video games like Halo, which allow users in different locations to play together. Instead, children should be encouraged to use the technologies to gain a certain level of digital literacy. (Macarthur)
Above all, it’s important to be a part of your child’s life. It’s hard when they want their own lives, and their moods change by the minute. But you are still their parent and they are still children in many ways. Whether their behavior indicates it or not, they need you. Truly, parents need to also open the lines of communication between their kids. The truth, parents are the ones who pay for the computer and continue to pay for the Internet each month. Therefore, we have the absolute right to ask our child about their sites and have the right to see their MySpace and Facebook accounts.
As a final point, MySpace and Facebook have changed society in many ways. It’s a parental choice to allow their children on Facebook. While there are disadvantages, with the right parental control, it can be a positive experience for youth.
“COPPA – Children’s Online Privacy Protection.” COPPA – Children’s Online Privacy Protection. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2011. http://www.coppa.org/comply.htm
Pappas, Stephanie. ” Today’s Kids Face ‘Facebook Depression’ | AAP Report on Cyberbullying, Cybersafety and Sexting | Parenting and Social Media | LiveScience .” Current News on Space, Animals, Technology, Health, Environment, Culture and History | LiveScience . N.p., 28 Mar. 2011. Web. 1 May 2011. http://www.livescience.com/13431-social-media-kids.html
Schaffhauser, Dian. “Teens’ Online Safety Improved by Education, Research Shows — THE Journal.” THE Journal: Technological Horizons in Education — THE Journal. N.p., 25 Nov. 2008. Web. 1 May 2011.
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