Today I’d like to talk about Facebook, internet safety and protecting kids online. If you have a child on Facebook or you’re parenting a tween who is ‘pestering’ you to let them have their own account, then I am sure you share my concerns.
Let me tell you why I am writing this post today. I have been blogging for 14 years and using social media for almost as long. I have seen the changing face of the internet. I have also experienced cyberbullying. Yes, I have literally grown up online!
Between cyberbullying, oversharing and peer pressure, the internet can very quickly turn into something worrisome. My parents were among the first generation of parents who faced this challenge. They didn’t know what they were getting into when they let me and my siblings have our own email addresses, but they taught us our boundaries. They talked to us all the time about the dangers of the internet. They took interest in our work and, from time to time, discussed any concerns they had. Now, after all these years, as my children are growing up, I am in their shoes.
My eldest is nine years old. Some of his classmates have their own phones and iPads. They even have their own Whatsapp groups and Instagram accounts. My son doesn’t own a phone yet, but he does get an hour of screen time every day. He has his own email account but I have to put in the password. I control his screen time with Parental Control apps.
In this day and age, we just cannot keep kids away from technology. In fact, we mustn’t. I have written about the 5 reasons why I don’t recommend keeping the kids off the internet and these hold true when it comes to keeping them away from phones too. We just miss out on our opportunity to educate them. Instead of preventing them from using technology, I strongly believe that we should give them what is right for their age and then teach them how to use it responsibly.
But… Facebook, or any other social media for that matter, is another story! There is just so much to fear about letting your kids have their own social profile. How can you protect them?
The first step to protecting your child from anything, is to talk to them. Tell them the reason why you need to address the topic; what your concerns are and how they can keep safe.
TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT INTERNET SAFETY
Teaching children about Internet safety is very important. Do they know how to recognise if someone is stalking them online? Have you told them that people can steal their personal information? Do they know who can view their pictures and that they could be saving them?! Many parents worry about how they can stop their child from adding strangers to their friends list and whether their child has another account that they are hiding from adults. How can you win their trust? We need to help them understand the ethics and rules of sharing things online to prevent them from getting hurt.
My Story: I grew up in this cyber age. I was just out of my teens when I started blogging and I have had a very bad experience with cyberbullying. It all started because of oversharing information. I did not know that people could track me down. My parents did, but they didn’t know it was happening. Lucky for me, I told them in time that ‘someone was being very mean’. The issue got resolved and the person gave up. The experience was terrible but my parents’ support helped me come out of it stronger than I had been. I learned a valuable lesson, no doubt. My sister is a Child Psychologist. I have learnt so much through working with her. Before I had kids of my own, I helped counsel children who had been bullied online or offline.
When your child asks to have an account on Facebook, the first thing that you should understand is why your child wants one. The basic reason is usually the same as ours. Why did we go on Facebook? To keep in touch with family and friends, of course! Like me, I am sure you too have found long-lost buddies and distant relatives that you haven’t met in years using Facebook. It is one of the easiest ways to keep in touch with everyone in your life. That’s what kids want too… but then… there is another very attractive reason why kids like Facebook: the games and apps!
Kids love playing online games with each other. Kids don’t know that they may be giving out personal information with these apps. Sometimes, they end up making friends with complete strangers. I remember, my tween nephew in 2009 who had secretly created a Facebook account to play FarmVille! He’d play against his friends for hours while his mom was working … he was one of the first children I counselled for bullying. 🙁
HOW DO I TALK TO MY CHILDREN ABOUT INTERNET SAFETY AND FACEBOOK?
Personally, I take every opportunity that I get, to talk about online safety with my kids. We have rules for using screens and even a signed contract making it clear that we understand what the family rules for technology are.
But… teaching isn’t easy. If you don’t really know what to tell them, how will you talk? We, as parents, need information and advice to help us parent better too. If your child wants to have an account on Facebook, what rules should they follow? Do you know what to say to them? Here is where Facebook can be your best friend.
Facebook recently launched a Parents Portal, a new tool that has been created to help parents find answers and basic information.
The advice given below is attributed to Antigone Davis, Head of Global Safety, Facebook and Local Policy Lead. (This part of the post is a Guest post on Jeddah Mom by Facebook MENA .)
Parents Portal is a part of Facebook’s Safety Centre and Bullying Prevention Hub. They have compiled a list of articles, tools and expert advice that can help you talk about online safety with your children.
Whether you have a personal account, or whether your teen has one, these basic tips and information can be very helpful in making sure that you have a good experience with Facebook.
Here are 6 Safety Tips courtesy of Antigone Davis, Head of Global Safety, Facebook:
- Let your child know that the same rules apply online as apply offline.
If it’s not something you want others to do to you, don’t do it to others. Just as you might tell your child to look both ways before crossing the street or to wear a helmet while riding their bike, teach them to think before they share online.
- Try to be a good role model.
The adage that children will “do as you do, not as you say” is as true online as it is offline. If you set time restrictions on when your child can use social media or be online (ex: no texting after 10:00 PM), follow the same rules.
- Engage early.
Data suggest that parents should engage online with their children as soon as they are on social media. Consider friending them when they join Facebook. Just as you lay the foundation early for dialogue and conversation offline with your children, you should lay that foundation early online. It gets harder to do so if you wait. Even before they are on social media, talk to them about technology as a whole. It can help lay the groundwork for future conversations.
- Identify and seize key moments.
For example, when your child gets their first mobile phone, it’s a good time to set ground rules. When your child turns 13 years old and is old enough to join Facebook and other social media, it’s a good time to talk about safe sharing. When your child gets a driver’s license, it’s a good time to discuss the importance of not texting and driving.
- Trust yourself.
Typically, you can adopt the same parenting style for your child’s online activities as you do for their offline activities. If you find that your child responds best to a negotiated agreement, create a contract that you can both sign. Or, maybe your child just needs to know the basic rules.
- Ask your children to teach you.
Not on Facebook? Or maybe you’re interested in trying a music streaming service? If your children are already familiar with these apps and sites, they can be an excellent resource. The conversation can also serve as an opportunity to talk about issues of safety, privacy and security. For example, you can ask them questions about privacy settings as you set up your own Facebook account. And, as most parents know all too well, your child will likely appreciate the opportunity to teach you.