Stranger Danger. Twenty years ago, this phrase was meant to stop kids from talking to adults they didn’t know who approached them on the street, at home, or at school. Now the strangers are coming into our houses, into our children’s room’s even, by the screen of a computer. As the popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites grow, so does the danger around them. It is becoming more difficult to keep our children away from them, so it is up to parents and grandparents to teach children how to be safe while using them.
The internet opens children to a world of information. Unfortunately, the people who give and take information are not always trustworthy. Since children can’t see these people face to face, it’s easier to trust them, and easier for criminals to lie. There are three things that parents should look out for specifically. The first is their children giving out personal information. Giving out personal information, such as how old you are, your phone number, or your address can lead to anything from annoying junk mail to identity theft. Many sites have pop-up’s asking for personal information before the user can continue. After this information is released, it can go anywhere. Second, is the danger of cyberbullying. Although bullying happens in many ways during a child’s life it can be particularly damaging on the internet. Here, children feel safer to be crueler with their insults since they do not think adults can hear them. One cyber bully can turn into many quickly, ganging children up on one another. Social networking sites are places that cyberbullying happens the fastest and easiest. AND Just because the bullying is happening in text and not words doesn’t mean it is not damaging to the child. Third, is the false identities. It is very easy to make a Facebook page and not put up your actual picture. It is just as easy to change your age, your name, your sexual preference, and where you live. Children have no way of telling if who they are talking to is really their age, or someone much older. MySpace has already been noted for having attracted a number of men telling girls that they are younger, and young girls telling men they are older. The simple fact is, if you do not see them face to face, you do not know who they are.
Yet, Facebook and other social networking sites such as MySpace, Twitter, and LinkedIn, are only dangerous because of some people who use them. They also provide an entertaining place for people to meet and stay in touch. Many kids use it like they would a phone, contacting friends, sharing pictures, and setting dates and events up together. Since the world we live in is growing more dependent on computers, it only makes sense that children try and incorporate it into their lives at a young age. It is our responsibility to help our children learn how to use social networking sites in a healthy, safe way. The first thing to do is to check out these sites for yourself. Make a page, even if you don’t use it, this way you can watch your children from afar, while gaining a better understanding of how the site works. If you don’t know how to use the website, you won’t know how to help when situations become dangerous. Next, ask to see your children’s friends list. Although this may seem like an invasion of privacy, it is in their best interest. Ideally, everyone on a child under the age of 12’s friend list should contain only people you know; Family, friends and possibly people from in the neighborhood. Having a lot of friends that live far away may seem like a good idea for being a pen pal, but on the internet it is a suspicious sign that something is wrong. Finally, talk to your children about safety and the internet. This is most important. Explain to them why it is dangerous to meet people they do not know in person from the internet. Teach them how to protect their information, so that it won’t be put on the internet. Most importantly, teach them what is appropriate for the website, and what is not. A picture of their cat may not do any harm, but a picture of them in a bathing suit may.
Although Facebook and MySpace may be the new fad, they are not the only options for kids to contact one another. Togetherville.com is a new website made for children who are 12 and under to connect with other children. The site has two different parts, an adult part and a children’s part. Adults need to have a Facebook page for children to join. This way, once the child sets up an account the parent, and only the parent, can add friends to the child’s account. This way parents are monitoring who their children are talking to without having to literally read what they are saying. You can “friend” family members and friends from Facebook, as well as make friends within togetherville. The website is kid-friendly and doesn’t host inappropriate ad’s, games, or quizzes. Rather children can chat, color, or play games with each other. Of course, it is always a good idea to encourage kids not to spend time on the computer. Since the main function of social networking sites is to make friends, why not get them involved in the real world. Having a child join clubs, sports, or teams is a good idea because they can interact in person and make more meaningful relationships than those online.
So the question is, Facebook-Friend or Foe? The opportunity for social advancement and a good time, or a dangerous path to terrible consequences? The fact is: it’s up to you.