I recently got into one of those debates on Facebook about children and their use of social media. As many of you know, I have a tween, social media has become very much on her radar. Of course, I am a sensible mum, I work as a social media manager therefore I know the workings of social media. She dabbles with a private picture sharing account, and she messages on the family iMac (family sharing is obviously in line with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). I realise your child and their safety on the internet is completely up to every individual family and the age they decide to let their children participate is again at a family’s discretion.
But do you know what shocked me most? The amount of personal detail that people gave out on an thread not started by them, a post that was shared by the original poster and her friends list. There were certainly people on this list I had never heard of, and therefore many people on that list did not know me at all. In that thread I learnt children’s names, their surnames (by default of their parent’s Facebook profile), their ages, sometimes their profiles gave their hometowns, and pictures clearly identified what schools they went to or maybe what sports team they played for. Therefore, if the main aim was not sharing children’s personal details to protect them online and in real life, they’d failed, as the parents were doing this already, with complete strangers.
Learning to use social media and the internet is an ongoing process for everyone, including the parents. Children now get compulsory lessons at school: They learn how to use hashtags, the dangers of online bullying and not speaking to strangers. But how many parents actually partake in such lessons, or even try to use some of the social media channels to get a better understanding? One thing I notice frequently is the exposure people give to other people’s children by tagging them into photographs. Of course you can untag, but I now no longer tag parents in pictures, it’s up to them to highlight that their children are on pictures on Facebook.
I still find the laws very woolly regarding children’s online safety. We have the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, but this still gives unrestricted access to search engines, video streaming etc which doesn’t really offer protection from finding unsuitable material online, but does stop the sharing of personal details. With my own children my judgement is the final one: They ask me first if it is OK to look up on the internet certain subjects (normally we are talking Pokemon card unwrapping or watching jumbo jets take off) and all research is done on the family computer which resides in the kitchen, never locked away somewhere on their own.
I would love to know if you as a parent, have taken internet safety lessons, and if you have any words of wisdom on how to tackle this very complex subject.