Over the past few weeks the Caribbean has been dominated by news media stories stemming from apparent deviant behavior on Facebook by teens and preteens. The response from many educators, psychologists and general commentators has been consistent – social media access should be restricted for children and by restricted, many mean banned. Really?
Can you ban your children from all the social ills of the world? Or is it more pragmatic to arm them with the information to make smarter decisions?
Reality check: “Bans” or “restrictions” of social media access really don’t get to the root of the problem. You don’t have to be on Instagram for images of you to go viral. Being blocked from having a Facebook, Shapchat or other social media account won’t protect your child from being a victim of reputation attacks. Really, preparing your child to go online is a bit like preparing them for offline social life – you have to empower them with information about the risks involved point out how the decisions they make can help or hurt them in the future.
Why try to “ban” your child when in reality they are going to find a way around your restrictions anyway? Social media use is NOT like watching TV was in the 1980s. Accessing it is not as visible as turning on the noisy 48 inch box in the living room was in 1985. Social media can be accessed from almost ANY device connected to the internet which, nowadays is anything in your house except maybe your couch.
Access can be obtained from Kindles, Play Stations, WIs and IPADs to computers at school and the unlocked mobile phone of their older sibling, grandparent or friends – social media banning is difficult and impractical. In addition to this, parents are generally unaware of how many sites there are out there. So maybe you ban your child from Facebook and Instagram but you may have them on Snapchat or Kik – and have NO idea what those sites are! Proactive pragmatic parenting conversations about online use – particularly sites where you are allowed to create your own content (post and share pictures, text and videos) is important for any parent wanting to help protect their child’s reputation.
In 2011 tweens were socializing more online than they were in real life. Sure, that is a three year old US based statistic but take a look into any gathering of young people over 10 and you will see…they are using the web more than they talk. If you, as a parent, don’t know what sites they are visiting or posting to, you have literally let them play with matches and gasoline – you are just waiting for the explosion and burns that will come from inappropriate social media use. UNLESS…
Yes, unless you do something that far too many of us adults seem to be afraid of: Having CANDID conversations about social media and the risks therein. Who are they texting? What do they share online and why do they share it? These are not questions any adult should be afraid to ask a young person in their family or immediate circle. Ask about the pictures they share and most importantly ask their parents how often they follow or monitor social media activity.
Scary statistic: A UK study found 52% of children 8-16 years of age admitted to ignoring the age limitations for Facebook. If a child is using social media and they are under 13, that’s a different conversation. I am not promoting unrestricted access to the web or social media for children. Heck, I think until a child is over 18, parents have the right to check in on social media activity from time to time but that may be the child of parents who conducted bookbag checks until I started university talking…. I believe in COPPA and that online identity creation for children under 13 should not be permitted on sites that restrict same UNLESS a parent is posting to a family page.
True story. My 11 year old cousin had an Instagram account last year…until “aunty dani” found out. I did not ban his access or instruct his parents to. Instead I asked his parents a few questions:
- Does your son know that one image of him/you/us shared online can potential be viewed by millions (ok I said billions) of people we don’t know?
- Do you know that videos and photos shared on Instagram can go viral in minutes? Has your son ever filmed a video of you?
- Do you know that on Instagram you can be “friended” or followed by strangers?
- Have you given your son any guidelines on who should be his “friends” online?
These questions spurred all kinds of conversation that ultimately led to some frank conversations and the temporary deactivation of the said account.
He’s mad at me for now but he’s 11. He and his parents will thank me when his application for med school does not include that naked selfie he may have posted if his account was not disabled until he turns 13.
It takes a village to raise a digital native. Help your friends out. Ask questions and be a grown up about social media instead of throwing a tantrum and trying to ban all children from same.
Would love to hear from you. Like and share this post. Leave your comments below.