Social Networking: A Guide for the Average Parent
Found In: Social Networks
It seems that everyone under the age of 30 is on either Facebook, MySpace, or Bebo these days. With the scare-mongering going on in the news, it’s easy to think that these sites are crawling with unsavoury characters ready to leap out at a moment’s notice and infect the minds of the young and impressionable. Many parents wonder whether it’s truly safe to let their children use these popular sites – however, the reality is far more mundane than the media would have us believe, and with a little supervision, they are no more dangerous than walking down the street.
Facebook, MySpace and Bebo are a type of website called social networking sites. They allow people to create their own little mini-webpage that others can see. They also have a range of gadgets, like small games, photo galleries and more. People can tag each other as friends, comment on each others sites, and chat or trade files. Your page can contain whatever you choose to reveal about yourself: your favourite music, your photos, or your diary. People enjoy using these sites for many reasons. They let people to keep in contact with friends who might have moved away or who have lost touch. For teenagers, it allows them to be a part of a group, and of course, to show off to all their friends. It’s all part of the networking phenomenon of making new contacts online who share your interests, and for the vast majority of users, it’s just a way to have fun with friends and meet new people.
Each individual site has their own way of organizing pages and presenting information. The most important thing to remember is that, although it’s fun and a great way to keep in touch, using a social networking site is like shouting in the middle of the street. Unless your child specifically restricts who can read their webpage, any information there is as public as an advert in a newspaper. Bear in mind that the friends they make solely through such sites may not be who they say they are. There’s no need to automatically suspect everyone, but a healthy dose of caution is recommended.
The problem is when children make contacts that are not sanctioned by their parents and may be shady in nature. Social networking sites have been used by sexual predators to make contact with vulnerable victims, although this is thankfully very, very rare. Another concern is that classmates or friends might gain access to their page and pose as them, or use the sites to harass your child, and this is far more common. Cyber-bullying has lead to several high profile suicides in recent times, and it is something that parents should be aware of in order to protect their children.
Parents need to keep an eye on who their children are talking to, and take an interest in their online activities. A parent can make their own webpage and link to their child’s in order to monitor what information and what people are communicating with them. They can also talk to their child and teach them about how to be careful with the information they release online. Exercising common sense is the best course of action – if a child has access to the Internet, they will use these sites regardless and it would be difficult or simply impossible to completely restrict them. Being aware of what they do, and cautioning them if necessary, is a good first step. Social networking sites have contributed a lot to the rise and acceptance of the Internet as a communications medium. They’re designed to be friendly, controllable, and accessible to the less technically inclined. Parents should not be overly afraid of Facebook, MySpace and others – embracing these new technologies can, in fact, be a great bonding experience between parent and child.