As you have probably noticed, Internet use in general and social network use in particular continues to grow. Consider the following:
An average day on Facebook:
- 15% of Facebook users update their own status.
- 22% comment on another’s post or status.
- 20% comment on another user’s photos.
- 26% “Like” another user’s content.
- 10% send another user a private message.
And though Facebook is an online behemoth, these statistics cover only one day, on one social network site! It’s no wonder today’s kids are called the “Net Generation” and the “iGeneration”!
Keeping our kids safe as they explore all those wonderful online opportunities is no easy task, and for those of us who are not as tech-savvy as our children (or even those who are), talking to our kids about online safety can seem daunting. But there is good news! Though it might take some research to familiarize yourself with the online dangers facing your child, addressing online safety is similar to handling other important parenting issues like sex and drugs – education and communication are key.
To help add a bit more context, let’s look at an acronym from Dr. Larry Rosen, a professor at California State University and author of two books on the iGeneration (“Me, Myspace, and I” and “Rewired”).
Trust: It is important to maintain a certain level of trust between parent and child. As parents we are often so concerned about our children’s safety that trust goes out the window, and a lack of trust can lead to unnecessarily intrusive behaviors. Dr. Rosen uses the example of “snooping in your daughter’s room and reading her locked diary.” While it’s important to keep your eye out for genuine threats, completely stripping your children of all their privacy will often only make them more determined to hide things from you. Instead, try to establish freedom and privacy within limits, such as allowing your child to have a Facebook account, but using a monitoring service that alerts you to red flags. In this way, you’re not spying on every comment your child makes online, but you still have a level of involvement – should it be necessary.
Assess: If your family is already using the Internet regularly, take the time to talk to your children about how they use social networks and where they spend their time online. Rather than trying to view your child’s Facebook page behind his/her back, ask your child to sit at the computer with you. This is a great opportunity to get an idea of each other’s expectations when it comes to online time, and discuss best practices when it comes to protecting privacy and behaving responsibly.
Learn: As we mentioned, a little research is always a good idea. Spend some time learning about the various social networks your children use and what, if any, privacy controls are available. The more you know about dangers like cyberbullying and identity theft, the better equipped you will be to handle them. Check out sites like ConnectSafely.org and StaySafeOnline.org.
“K”ommunicate: Two-way communication!!! Nothing can beat it! If your child is willing to talk with you about what is going on in his/her life at school, then you will have a leg up talking about what’s happening with them online. Help them understand why it’s important to practice good “netiquette,” and teach them what risks to watch out for. The more open and honest you are with each other, the more your child will feel comfortable telling you when something goes wrong. For some kids, a big, sit-down, “talk” is the best way to go. Others respond better to more subtle messages on a frequent basis. The bottom line is, you know your child, so talk to him or her in the same way you would about other important topics.
One final tip: many of us, adults and children alike, seem to be glued to our laptops and mobile devices, and if time spent at home together is also spent online, it can be difficult to create space for the important conversations mentioned above. Back before household computers, my family had a “no T.V. between 6pm and 8pm” rule, and the same principle applies here. Consider setting up a “media-free” hour when everyone agrees to put aside their various electronic devices and spend time without their eyes on a screen. So, while the Facebook pages, iPhones, and constant interpersonal communication of the iGeneration may seem overwhelming to us as parents, remember that many of the same old rules apply – you just need upgrade to the latest version of them!
Hampton, Keith et al. “Social Networking Sites and Our Lives” (June,16 2011). Pew Internet and American Life Project. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Technology-and-social-networks/Summary.aspx
Rosen, Larry. “Me, Myspace, and I” (2007). http://books.google.com/books?id=7XcLAeD8u_EC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false