*photo courtesy of google images
Many of you readers have children too young for this to be of concern - YET. Trust me, it will be a HUGE concern to you sooner than you know.
I was intrigued, though sadly not shocked, when I came upon this Huff Post article about a principal suggesting parents ban social networking access from their teenagers. My interest was especially peaked because the daughter of one of my dearest friends is a recent victim of cyber-bullying. My heart goes out to my friend everyday as she is in the throes of talking with the principal as well as legal authorities to determine the best action to take against the offender. (Not to mention how to handle the emotional repercussions for her daughter.)
Cyber-bullying is all too common these days. We've seen it most recently in the story of Phoebe Prince. I think it's worse than the traditional "playground" bullying we experienced because online anonymity breeds a braver, fiercer foe. And if you think cold viruses spread fast on campus, try sneezing out a few vitriolic germs online, they multiply faster than you can say H1N1.
I've given this a lot of thought. My immediate opinion upon reading the article was to disagree with the principal in New Jersey who pleaded with parents to ban their middle-school aged kids from all social networking sites. I don't believe it's realistic. Like trying to force abstinence - it's a nice thought, we all wish it could work, but short of the Amish...it ain't really gonna happen. But that's a whole other box of condoms...
My first thought was to agree with the commenter who said that since we teach our kids proper social behavior in other places where we have less supervision than the home: church, temple, school, friend's homes, why not teach proper etiquette for the internet as well. Education. Of course, not every kid listens to their parents but where would we be if we didn't try. Right? Social networking is a new frontier albeit a dangerous one, but as someone said in the article, the danger comes less from where most parents think it does, the sexual offender lurking in public chat rooms, than from people in your child's own circle of online "friends".
But then I remembered what I said to my friend when she called desperate for what to say and do with her teenager who had gotten into trouble that was quickly inflamed on the internet. And what I said was, "Take her off EVERYTHING! Facebook, Twitter, everything." I had the same reaction as the principal whose thoughts I was rejecting only minutes ago. Hmmm....I gave it more thought.
And I've come up with what I think is comfortable for me. I'm going to keep allowing my middle school child to use the internet and social networking sites AS LONG AS I have access to monitor her communication and AS LONG AS her behavior is acceptable to me. In other words, the internet will be a privilege she will have to earn and keep earning. As far as the people she "hangs out with" online, if I find their behavior to be unacceptable, she will have to un-friend them. It's not perfect. I know. I can't control other kids out there, whether on the internet, at school, wherever. Things can happen even with my system of checkpoints. But do I think it's fair for me to ban her from a social lifeline the likes of what the telephone was to me and my peers as a teenager? No.
So what do parents do?
Education, like the commenter said. How/when/how much to use the internet is the parents' responsibility. (And, I believe, should be the school's as well but considering the serious struggle just keeping teachers on staff these days I highly doubt that is gonna happen).
Monitor. Monitor. Monitor.
Get the parental controls. Keep the technology out of the bedroom. I LOVE the idea from the article of hoarding all the technology in a central place overnight - one where the teenager can't get access. It's not perfect, I know. Kids will get around it, I know. But I believe if you cut your teenager off ENTIRELY from something that is central to their social identity, you are asking for them to become even more clever than you at finding ways to subvert your authority. And, trust me, push them up against a wall, and they will.
Think back to when you were a teenager...okay, don't. As a parent...way too scary...
What would you do? Do you think banning social technology from your teen is the way to go? How are you keeping them safe from cyber-bullying and internet harm?
I'd really like to know...