Dear Dr. Fournier:
I have allowed my children, 16 and 14, to have Facebook pages. They have strict rules regarding Facebook plus my parental oversight. They’re well rounded and do get socialization by means other than Facebook. They attend church and are active in sports. They use discretion on Facebook and have demonstrated such to my husband and me. What do you think of Facebook and online social networking?
Did you know Facebook already has more than 200 million subscribers since it became available in February 2004? Obviously, social networking sites have great appeal to many.
It was not until 2007 that I ventured into Facebook. Initially, I thought it was a secure way of communicating easily with those I considered friends. Before I knew it, I was being asked by acquaintances if they could be friends.
I succumbed to the pressure and said yes. Suddenly I knew who was dating who, who was in their bed, who was going out to eat or to get coffee right then and there (like I care), and pictures of everywhere they go (some of which are nice, some I wish I had never seen).
Many people using Facebook are discarding all forms of social etiquette. While some offer warm messages, others zing insults. They broadcast everything about their lives I have no desire or business knowing.
We are becoming too comfortable as a society with the mundane and the downright disgusting. What ever happened to self-respect, dignity, privacy, and knowing social boundaries?
My social networking has boundaries as to what I say, do, and share publicly; with whom I choose to socially network; what I accept from them; and whether or not I see fit to continue socializing with them.
Yes, it is true that adults (not children) have the right to do as they please.
However, I wish parents were more like you and more involved in even the smallest activities in which their children participate. Yet I would caution, parents, still. You may think you can watch over your children on social networking sites, yet you cannot patrol the world.
Facebook and other social media has its positives: immediacy, quick linkage to people one wants to stay in touch with, and a sense of constant togetherness otherwise impossible.
What To Do
I have been in contact with Kathy Peel, who has a very good website entitled Family Manager. I encourage all parents to visit her site at www.familymanager.com.
You can subscribe to Kathy’s e-mails, which are a wealth of information. She offers parents many tips on many issues. She is also the author of 20 books, including the award-winning Busy Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Organized Home.
Interestingly, she has discontinued her Facebook page due to hackers.
Jan, this suggests that even your diligent and watchful eye over your children may not be enough to protect them on social networking sites from hackers. Hackers may use the information your children post as well as their pictures in a non-flattering, detrimental, or hurtful way as is the pattern with many of these hackers
So, let this be a lesson and warning to all parents that anything your children put on social networking sites can be compromised.
I want to share with you some things Kathy shared with me recently. She provided me data from her own research about the experiences of children regarding social media and online use. She has graciously allowed me to share with my readers. It is startling and should be a wake-up call to us all:
9 out of 10 children have been accidentally exposed to pornography;
20 % of teens admit to participating in “sexting” (sending sexually suggestive messages);
20 % of teens say they have sent/posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves;
39 % of teens say they send or post sexually suggestive messages;
48 % of teens say they have received sexually suggestive messages;
44 % of teens say it is common for sexually suggestive text messages to get shared with people other than the intended recipient;
36 % of teen girls and 39 % of teen boys say it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with people other than the intended recipient;
33% of online solicitations of minors is via social networking sites; and
32% of online teens have been contacted by strangers online.
Jan, Facebook is not going to go away although as most communication methods, it will most likely morph into new formats, which means you have to be all the more diligent in parenting your children regarding changes.
My question to all parents is are you teaching your children to use Facebook without debasing themselves? Children should be taught that a good thing should not be used for bad activity. I see a lot of bad behavior on these social networking sites as well.
And do not forget this: In a global economy, your children will intersect with cultures that still expect social boundaries to be respected. I still expect people to regard social boundaries in my home. I also expect this from those that I call friends, even on my Facebook page.
As we protect first amendment rights, we should also defend our right to choose with whom who we associate. All parents should teach their children modicums of decency and how to behave, lest others through social networking teach them that vulgarity is appropriate and socially acceptable.
And, all parents should be as involved in their children’s lives as you are in yours, Jan.