Social networks - yes or no?
Posted by: Brigitte Rozario, 31-Jul-2011
Should children be allowed to go on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter? Every other teenager is on the social network scene, but do they need it? And, how much privacy and security will your child be compromising by going on social networks?
Two parents share their opinions on allowing their kids on social networks.
Anne d'Cruz, mother of two aged 12 and 14:
"Both of them have a Facebook account each. 'All' their friends and cousins were on Facebook and they pestered us to allow them to open accounts. We relented and allowed the boy to open an FB account after his UPSR exam. Then one day during the December school holidays at my parents, our girl opened a secret FB account using a pseudonym. Our son rang us to inform us. (He was upset because she didn't get permission from us.) We talked to her about it, argued over it and finally allowed it as as long as she used her own name. She did.
Our fear was and is predators, paedophiles, bullies, hackers, cheats, scammers. Some of the 'real world' issues move to cyberspace and take a different shape. E.g. some of their friends scare me because these kids have issues (a crisis at home, divorced parents, middle child syndrome) and their online venting I feel affects my children's wellbeing.
We told them from the get-go to sort our their privacy and security settings and set it up to avoid the pain of viruses and malware. And they have seen their share of 'oh-why-my-PC-slowed-to-a-crawl'. As for private information, they are careful not to disclose the home address and phone number. Ditto with information shared with friends of friends. It is a learning curve and we are still at it because you never know how the next mind schemes or thinks.
If parents want to allow their kids on social networks, maybe at the start they need to monitor their child's social network interactions until parents become comfortable about the kids operating in a virtual world. But it didn't work for me. Here's why: Our son was 'friending' women in dubious poses and more dubious names and that worried me. I'd get him to unfriend them because I didn't believe they were gamers (exchanging points/weapons/whatever). In the end, he 'unfriended' me! Boy, did I panic.
But later, I told him to separate his gaming girlfriends from his school friends and to secure his personal information. Most of his online interactions are an extension of his school interactions (back then we used POTS, now they use FB). The boy has an impressive set of friends lists which he tediously and carefully divided.
But I have access to him via other people who come back and tell me what he is up to. And it is largely positive, his interactions are equivalent of what to expect at his age. Last year, my sister-in-law (he blocked her from his wall finally) rang and complained that he was using the F word constantly on his page and gave me a long lecture about raising kids and religion. I just listened, held my tongue and told her not to worry, he is fine, no strange behaviour at home apart from raging male hormones and mood swings. Anyway, to be sure, I got a friend (a father) who is also his friend online to go take a look. He said it was normal teenage boy behaviour and remarked that my son wrote in beautiful English - with the F word within!
I am not friends with my daughter on FB either. We were but each time she got upset with me for saying 'No' to whatever it was, she'd 'unfriend' me. It got tedious.
But oddly enough, the kids and I 'talk' on FB via the messaging tool. For instance, if there is something interesting I feel they should be aware of or would be useful to them, I send them a message with a link about it. When I am out, I check on them via FB. And we have a conversation running back and forth.
There was an instance, I had sent both kids a link on the Idiot's guide to the July 9th marches as they were asking a lot of questions about it. We had explained why fair and free elections is necessary in Malaysia, but I thought the idiot guide was a cool and simple way to understand what was going on around them. Two days later in a completely different setting, they had a discussion over the word of 'idiot'.
That instance was one of more gratifying moments in dealing with children living in two worlds. It is good to know even though we aren't friends online, my views and fleeting entries are welcome. It is good to know our communication lines remain open. I am lucky that they tell us what they do online which is largely watch videos or participate in some dare (dumb as some may be), engage in girly talk - hair, skin, nails ....
I don't check what they do but I do ask what exciting thing happened on FB and more often than not, there is some story about some picture or video or dare or some person asking to be their friend (like a teacher) and should they say yes etc. Learning to manage people virtually is quite a task. I'm not adept but happy to dish out options on how they can do that.
I think it is inevitable that they go on the social networks. Why waste energy fighting it when you can invest time embracing it. I think each generation has mutated to include our learnings and experience within their DNA. Those beyond Generation Z are engineered differently.
A good age to let them get on social networks would be after they are reading as a habit. Because many people have forgotten you need to read when you look at a screen (even when you are watching a video on YouTube). And now you can read interactively with the iPad.
Precautions: Set reasonable limits for
online engagement. Expose them to other forms of real world
interaction (physical games, activities, a meal or movie together,
meeting people, parties, etc). Know when to be a parent and when to
be a friend and that's one tough balancing act."
Mazniha Mohd Ali Noh
Mohd Ali Noh, mother of three girls and one boy:
older girls are 16 and 17. They are on Facebook and Tumblr. All their
friends are on social networks, too.
Facebook friends so that I can advise them if I see them spending too
much time on the social networks doing unnecessary things.
and then I check what their friends are saying on the social networks
and tell them off if they use words they are not supposed to.
I think my
fears are that my children will spend too much time on the PC and
neglect their studies. I also worry about friends' peer pressure and
influence and that my children will become so used to virtual
communication that they lack face-to-face communication and
interpersonal skills. Of course, like all parents, I also worry about
paedophiles lurking on the Internet.
I think technology is a good thing; it's how we make use of it to make our lives better. We must always be there for our children, talk to them and spend time with them - to me that's the key."