Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Just say "No"

If you are a parent it is time to find out just how much of your personal information your computer savvy child has posted on the Internet. Parents that allow their children to be on social networks like Facebook, My Space and Twitter need to be extremely vigilant about what is posted on the Internet. I often hear parents defend their child's Facebook activity by telling me it is private and only open to their friends. First, do you really know all of your child's Facebook friends? How much time do you have to keep up on their Facebook activities? Second, there is nothing posted on the Internet that a smart stalker can't find out.
Some kids just post their name, address, phone number, cell phone number, and looking for a relationship without a second thought. How easy can it be for a dirty old man to find your cute little seventh grade daughter? Kids are often tricked into being friends with stalkers. Stalkers are very clever and have a million different ploys to become "friends" with your child.
Bullying and Sex
While you may truly think you are keeping track of what is going on another common trick is for kids to create a "parental unit" Facebook and then promptly set up a Facebook for their friends. When I taught high school I was shocked at the amount of bullying that occurred Facebook. People will say things on Facebook that they will never say to a person's face. Nice, student council type kids would find a victim and set up a group to pick on a fellow student. In a high school setting the victim has no place to hide from the wolf pack that surrounds them. Things spiral downward for the victim and the perpetrators don't get caught because they never quite cross the line of mentioning names or being libelous. Many after school sexual encounters are set up on Facebook.
Just say "No"
I do not think children should be allowed to have a Facebook page until they are in at least 11th grade. While this is very "uncool" it will save you a ton of headaches. By the time a child is in the upper high school grades most of the middle school meanness should be over. You still need to be very vigilant about how much information is posted and actively teach your student to be both safe and smart. You need to have a Facebook page yourself so that you can keep track of things.
A personal observation...
When my daughter was in 7th grade she really wanted a Face book page. We said "No". She was mad but life went on. Now she is a Freshman and still does not have a Facebook page. Recently a young 15 year old girl in a near by town was picked up at lunch by a 19 year-old Facebook boyfriend for lunch. She did not return to school on time. She was sexually assaulted that afternoon and then showed up at school at 3:30. It was not the "lunch date" she had in mind. Our school superintendent talked to the students at our school about the dangers of Facebook. Our daughter, now convinced the parental units are not completely stupid came home and said "Mom, Dr. ____ talked to us about Facebook and he said the same things you do." While she won't admit it I saw the relief in her face. When the parent says "No" you are the bad, uncool guy and it takes the pressure off your student. Put up with the fuss your student will make and stand firm. It will pay off in a few years.