Worried about kids & social networks like Facebook?

Elllery’s response to:
10 things you don’t know about teens and social networking

Finally! An author who understands that secretly monitoring kids’ online activities doesn’t work. More importantly, it has unintended effects. Spying on your kids is not the answer. It is neither a substitute for active engagement (aka, parenting) nor does it buttress the effective approach: Leading by example and open discussion. In short, as with any issue, there is no substitute for parental involvement along with a growing bond of trust.

The online culture will not go away. In fact, it will become more pervasive as new gadgets and unexpected venues are attached to the internet. Culture will continue to evolve along with the medium, such as the spawning of social networks.

One teenager stated that the online world is more relevant to her than the “real” world. As scary as this sounds to parents, it isn’t necessary a bad thing. The online world is real. With nurturing and a little guidance, it may even help her to overcome obstacles in her immediate vicinity (health, bullies, career opportunity, etc).

Another child says that she feels safer online than offline, and she does things online that I she would not do in real life. Considered one way, this might be cause for alarm. Does this mean that she is likely to engage in risky behavior? Perhaps. But, it could simply mean that she is a “risk taker” in the vein of exploring her alternate personas and even confronting her inner demons. For her, the virtual world might allow her to develop as an individual in all venues.

The rise of a new social medium – one with a value that eludes many parents – is not bad. In general, it needn’t be cause for concern (Exception: a child who lies to her Mom about spending time online while avoiding homework!). Addiction to anything—not just the internet—is a weakness that is countered by parenting and strength.

Ellery Davies is chief editor of AWildDuck.com. He clarifies law and public policy. He is also a parent of a preteen who is uses social networks. Reader Feedback is always welcome.

2 thoughts on “Worried about kids & social networks like Facebook?

  1. Monitoring your child’s interaction with others IS one of the best ways to stay engaged. The problem I believe with most parents is that they peek and then get actively involved with their child’s communications/interactions leading the child to believe there is a) no trust and b) no support for their child’s ability to make good decisions. I say – monitor every nook and cranny possible then be there to “guide” not intervene. The key to a great offense is a great defense – and a great defense requires information and information sources. And let us not forget that all coaches MUST be on the same page.

  2. Once a child turns 9 or 10 (or at least, when our child turned this age), she began to express informed opinions that were not simply a regurgitation of our own views and instructions. Yet, they made sense to us – her parents. She gradually asserted her personal space, branched into some new and unexpected directions (both activities and personal philosophy) and she began to have “secrets” with friends. That is, her games and role play were no longer scripted by Mom and Dad, but arose from her own imagination. She also took it upon herself to study fields that were not covered by 3rd and 4th grade curriculum.

    As parents, should we get to the bottom of this behavior? In my opinion, it depends…

    At some point, a parent must decide if their child has the capacity to weigh options and if they will make appropriate and ethical decisions within the framework of the family’s set of beliefs. For us and for our child, that age was 9. Spot checks? Yes. Monitoring? (aka: “peeking” or “spying”). No.

    I certainly realize that trusting a child’s activities and decisions at this age is not typical. In the 1980s, most American parents stopped allowing preteens the independence to roam beyond a shout. Yet, I allowed my daughter to roam a department store at 7 and she was permitted to ride a bicycle to school at 8 (about a mile and across a highway).

    Of course, we live in a pretty safe neighborhood, and even in the store, she was with a friend and had a cell phone. But more importantly, I have a pretty good idea how she reacts to uncomfortable situations. Before letting out the apron strings, we discussed and practiced dealing with uncomfortable situations. Over time, we observed how she dealt with strangers, with fear, with her desire for independence, and even with her own intuition concerning unexpected behavior. If I were to keep my daughter fastened to a leash until she left for college, then the experience of walking alone on a campus (or the judgement to avoid it at night) would be new to her. That thought scares me more than allowing some independence.

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