Dear parents of middle school children: The next time you drop your children off at the mall, I want you to give them specific instructions to hand out 20 selfies (provocative poses, please) along with their name, address and phone number to 20 strangers (the opposite sex is preferred). Feel free to allow these new “friends” to enter your children’s bedroom anytime, day or night.
Well, that is what we do when we give our preteens permission to sign up for social media accounts and do not monitor what they are doing online.
As a family and consumer science teacher, I am proud to have Internet safety as part of my curriculum. Unfortunately, although most social media accounts have minimum age requirements of 13, children as young as fifth grade have unmonitored accounts.
So, who is allowing this? Clearly the children signing up are lying about their age. What’s scary, among other things, is that they feel that having the privacy setting allows only those they can control to see their account. This false sense of security makes them feel they can post pictures and personal information for only their “friends” to see.
Many of the major corporations that have been hacked felt they were safe, too. When speaking to parents in the community as well as in the classroom, I emphasize that nothing online is 100 percent secure.
Parents feel they need to give their kids a sense of privacy. That’s fine for a diary, but not for a social media account. If a child was trying to cross the street and didn’t see a car coming, a parent would pull him out of harm’s way. So why is it different when a child is in harm’s way online?
Parents need to know their kids’ passwords, take their electronics at night and even go as far as installing spyware on their kids’ accounts to monitor what they are doing online. Imagine the lives that could have been saved had parents known what their children were communicating online, the sites they were visiting and with whom they were talking.
While teaching this unit, I am always astounded at the amount of digital freedom given to children under age 13. Digital electronics are unmonitored, used behind a closed bedroom door. And the phone/tablet is accessible all night in the child’s bedroom.
It’s also a good idea to read the fine print that your child has to agree to in order to use a social media site. Kids have no idea that everything they post belongs to the site, and that the site may use it for its own purposes, now or in the future. In other words, your children agree that their name, face, likeness and anything they post may be used now or in the future in any way the site, and its business partners, wish.
So what’s a parent to do when a child begs for a phone or any other electronic device, mostly because “everyone” else has one? First, have a contract that you and your child sign saying, among other things, that you have their password, permission to see all online activity and that they will not sign up for a social media account until they are the age of consent. If they break the contract, the device will be taken away. Commonsense.org has samples of family media agreements for children.
Imagine the beautiful lives that can be saved by being a proactive parent.