Archives for posts with tag: Facebook

 

Had a fabulous time at the Montreal Families Magazine Parenting Workshop this past Sunday. We were thrilled to see a capacity crowd of concerned moms (and some dads) come out to hear me and study skills expert Carolyn Melmed speak on a gorgeous, sunny September afternoon.

A number of great questions came out of the audience after my presentation, some of which I’ve heard from parents before. I figure if one parent is wondering or worrying about something, chances are there are plenty of others out there with the same question, so I’m going to focus on them one at a time in upcoming blog posts. Today’s subject is a really common question – what is the right age to let our kids get Facebook accounts?

The answer to this depends on a few things — your child’s interest, maturity levels, responsibility, readiness as well as your personal values and comfort with technology. Just as it would be impossible to answer a question about what is the right age for learning how to read or developing an interest in romantic relationships, knowing when to let your kids onto Facebook depends on a number of factors.

First of all, Facebook itself has determined that kids under 13 should not become members, and they state this on their registration page. Getting around that is as simple as fudging the birth year information (which is always a good idea for privacy and identity theft reasons anyway), but parents have to feel comfortable with breaking this simple rule. Some parents are not.

Next you have ask what they intend to do on the site. If it’s mostly for the gaming, well, there are plenty of other games on the Internet (and on gaming systems), but the truth is that Facebook games are a relatively harmless way to spend time on the site. Raising virtual potatoes on Farmville is no one’s definition of risky behaviour.

If they want it because “everyone else has it,” I’m sympathetic but skeptical. First of all, not everyone has it, but an awful lot of kids do. And it’s hard (but not impossible or even inadvisable) to resist the tremendous adolescent social pressure to be like everyone else. I’ve only recently forgiven my parents for banning television on school days when I was a kid. Missing the previous evening’s broadcast of Charlie’s Angels certainly had repercussions in the schoolyard the next day, but my grades steadily improved without the distraction. And I turned out mostly OK.

How do you think your kids will manage its addictive powers? If you will have to constantly negotiate their time on Facebook, if it will cut into homework, face-to-face socialization, school, family time or reading, then think this through carefully. You may need to set up strict rules for when and how long they can be on. You will need to establish consistent consequences for breaking these rules. You will need to stick to them.

Talk to them about cyberbullying. Talk about respecting others, handling themselves with dignity. Discuss the fact that stuff on the Internet is impossible to erase. That things can be copied and forwarded an infinite number of times. They should never, ever post anything they wouldn’t want their teacher to see. Or their grandmother. Or their future boss. Or their future children.

Talk about how nuance and irony don’t play out so well in typed comments. It’s easy to misunderstand something that was meant to be a joke. They need to understand how they can easily hurt someone else through ignorance.

Are you concerned about your kids’ privacy online? You should be. Consider getting them to creatively misspell their name or use a pseudonym their friends will know. Set up a Google alert with this name too. Inform yourself about Facebook’s many privacy controls and stay abreast of new developments. Configure them to the highest degree of privacy, which still allows friends to view their posts and picture: for “only friends” (not “friends of friends”). I’m working on a post about how to do this, in case you don’t feel comfortable figuring it out on your own, so stay tuned.

Link their account to your email and keep a record of their password. Many kids resist this, but it’s a basic requirement in my eyes. You will get all notifications of friend requests, posts and tagged pictures. You will not need to read the vast majority of them (which would be a chore), but you will be able to monitor their activity quite easily.

Insist they friend you. And never, ever comment on their walls or posts. Having a parent is just too embarrassing for words when you are 12 or 14, so respect that.

Occasionally review their home feeds (also called news feeds) with them. Not as a punishment or lecture, but as a conversation. What are their friends talking about? What kind of language is used? Does anything make them or you uncomfortable? Talk about that.

As time goes on, and they demonstrate consistent responsibility, they can earn more and freedom. You will need to do these things less often. They can earn their privacy, their passwords, the right to link their account to their own email. Don’t abuse the freedom you are given, but keep a close eye until you feel confident they are capable of handling themselves appropriately.

All of this begs the question: “What is risky behaviour?” In a nutshell, it’s activities that could potentially lead to harm, both for your child or those around them. It can interfere with other normal activities in their lives. It can cause them to make poor choices. It can be immoral, illegal or unhealthy.

So where would Facebook fit into that definition?

One research study found that spending time on Facebook tends to lower kids’ grades, promote narcissistic tendencies and lead to anxiety and depression. But the same study also found that the social media site can help kids hone their empathetic tendencies by offering each other support online. They also found it could help introverted teens learn how to interact with others in a way that made them feel more comfortable.

There are a lot of reasons why parents might not want their kids on Facebook until they feel they are old enough. Some parents just try to delay it as long as possible. There is so simple pat answer to this question.

What did I do? Well, as I wrote in this Montreal Families Magazine article, I allowed my twins to sign on to Facebook when they were 11 years old. My husband and I felt we could use it as an opportunity to regularly monitor what they were up to (11-year-olds are far more compliant than 13-year-olds, as a general rule), and it would open many possibilities for discussion and dialogue. Which it has. We’ve been very happy with this decision. But our 8-year-old is a different kid, requiring a different set of parenting strategies, and we aren’t so sure the same approach will work for her down the line.

You need to find your own comfort zone. You need to explain your rational to your child. And you need to maintain a careful eye on how they are handling this tremendous responsibility.

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Parenting in the new millenium – these is the kind of question no one needed to ask ten years ago.

There were fewer grey areas in the student-teacher relationship back then. Exchanging telephone numbers was clearly inappropriate. A thank you note dropped in the office mailbox was fine, as was waving hello in the local shopping mall food court. Aside from the occasional incident or rumour, it was pretty straightforward.

Social media changed things. It blurred the conventional methods of communication, making everything seem much less formal.  These new rules weren’t written yet, and relying on common sense wasn’t always particularly helpful but people mostly seemed to figure it out. Or maybe not.

A new law passed in Missouri makes it illegal for teachers to be friends with their students on any social network that allows private communication. This would include Facebook or Twitter. The idea behind the law, quite predictably, is to protect children and teens from predatory adults, but critics worry the law might actually prevent kids at risk from reaching out to trusted adults who could actually offer support.

It seems to me this is actually a much more complicated issue than the panicky rhetoric indicates. I never friended my students when I was a university faculty member, not because I worried about any risk I might pose to them or they to me, but because there are still meaningful divides between our private lives and our public lives. I didn’t need them to see my posts and photos of my kids any more than I wanted to know more than they cared to share in class or in conversation about their relationship woes, parties or trips to New York.

As my kids would say, it’s a case of TMI (too much information).

I don’t think I’m being naive or old-fashioned when I say that line between public and private is still meaningful. The line itself may shift with the times, but it’s still important, whether it’s between adults in a college classroom or kids and teachers in a high school. I had no issues with being contacts on LinkedIn (they were young adults counting on me for professional references, after all) or using email and the telephone to keep in touch. And after the semesters ended and students moved on, there were always a few who kept in touch and gradually crossed the line towards friendship.

But I don’t know many teachers of children and teens who cross that line. And I worry about making these things into confusing new laws. The Missouri bill specifically bans teachers from friending current and former students – does that mean students who’ve graduated are always off-limits? Can’t we just assume that most teachers and most parents will be on top of this? We never legislated teachers phoning their students’ cell phones. We haven’t worried about them texting each other. We didn’t make it illegal for them to send each other holiday cards (though I’m guessing few ever do).

So no, I don’t think your teen should be Facebook friends with their teachers, for all of these reasons and more. This should be a part of every school and school board’s media policy.  And general common sense about this would benefit from discussion and awareness-raising. This is a case where the adults involved really should know better. After all, they are protecting both themselves and their students.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject, whatever your perspective. Feel free to comment here or message me directly.

Your messages are waiting.

My newly minted 8-year-old chose today as her mental health day. I give each of my girls one “free” day a year, when they get to take off school and hang out with me, doing whatever they like. It can get a bit complicated with my work schedule, but basically they get most of the day to sleep in, get more than their usual 30 minutes allotment of daily screentime, go for lunch, a walk with the dog, a trip to the library, etc.

It can be a bit of a challenge to fit in one-on-one time with three kids, so this is a little bonus for all of us. One day a year may not seem like much, but it does feel very special when it finally comes round.

So my little one and I hung around the house all morning, and I have to admit that I squeezed in some work on the computer while she parked her brain in front of the Family channel. I did feel a teeny bit guilty about this, but she was very happy to have uninterrupted access to the TV for a bit.

She chose a nice brunch type place for lunch and when we were handed the menus, my cellphone buzzed. She rolled her eyes and looked frustrated.

“Promise me no talking or texting during our lunch.”

Ouch. That hurt. I know I’m a bit of a Crackberry addict, but here it was out of the mouths of babes.

I promised her not to touch it, and I put it in my purse so the blinking red light wouldn’t torment me through the meal. It was really, really hard not to pick it up. But I managed it. And we had a great conversation about turning 8 and what she’s been reading and we squeezed in several rounds of hangman on our Nutella-stained paper placemats (I take my kids to the fanciest places.)

But her insightful comment made me think about the whole phenomenon of “half-attention,” where our parenting time gets diluted into the “hmmmmms?” and “reallys?” and “OKs” we dole out while our brains are actually tuned into the email or Facebook feeds on our cellphones.

Kids pick up on this from a very young age. They know when mom or dad is not really paying attention. And very soon, dear parents, often sooner than you think, they will have their own cellphones. And when you ask them what happened at school that day, they will answer “hmmmmm?” while typing madly on their own screens.

Ask yourself:

  • How often are you talking on your cellphone when your kids are in the car, instead of talking to them?
  • Do you allow your telephone to disturb you during family dinners?
  • Do you check your email and/or Facebook or Twitter feeds while watching your kid’s soccer game, hanging out at the playground or taking them out to restaurants?
  • Do your children or spouse ever have to ext you to get your attention, even when you are all under the same roof?
  • Have you recently found yourself looking at your phone instead of your child while s/he is talking to you?
  • Have you ever looked up from your phone to realize your kid had given up on your attention and wandered off to do something on their own, and you didn’t even notice?
  • Or worse, especially with little kids: Have you ever looked up from your phone to find they have gotten themselves in an unsafe situation, an altercation with another kid, or just taken off without you?

If you’ve answered yes to two or more, you might want to think about the impact your cellphone habits are having on your family relationships. After all, you are ultimately the one in control, and it is possible to turn it off, or down or put it away during key moments. Because your messages will still be waiting for you after dinner, or your daughter’s swim meet, or the playground.

This fabulous article from Common Sense Media (one of my favourite non-profit sites for frank reviews of movies, TV shows, books and music for kids and teens) tracks one woman’s efforts to figure out what information is given away when her 12-year-old daughter plays and does homework online.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes about her decision to allow her pre-teen to have an account on Facebook, despite that site’s policy of only allowing those 13 and over to legally open an account. She isn’t alone – it’s an issue I’ve struggled with as well. Like Tynan-Wood, I felt that saying no to Facebook had a social impact for my twin daughters. And as I discuss in this article, allowing them on the social media website with strict rules and supervision meant I could help them make sense of it while they were young enough to still listen to their mom.  According to Consumer Reports, 7.5 million Facebook users are under 13. 

One practical impact of the parental decision to allow our kids on Facebook is the massive amount of information these (and other) sites are able to collect about their activities online. 

It’s the social networking sites, though, that give me the most pause. It might not seem like a big deal: She installs a silly app, plays a game, “LOLs” on photos, posts a picture, announces what she’s doing, creates a fake job, and “marries” her classroom crush. She’s having a blast.

But the apps aren’t really free. She often “pays” for them by allowing access to her — and sometimes her friends’ — profiles. Add this to the information that she and her friends willingly provide, even the fact that they’re friends, and collect it all into a dossier, and you’d have quite a portrait of my little girl and her crew. The companies that collect this data claim that they never connect this information to individuals, and Facebook prohibits app makers from transmitting data to outside companies — but large breaches have happened.

And what happens when my baby isn’t a baby anymore? Will “the machine” have created a detailed analysis by then of what sort of employee, insurance risk, or student she’ll be? Will it understand that she was playing around when she claimed to work at IHOP? Will it know that the girls didn’t understand what it meant when they called each other prostitutes? Will it strip these games of context, feed it to a database as fact, and sell it to credit companies, insurance agencies, employers, colleges, marketing firms, or the highest bidder? That sounds paranoid. But there have been so many mistakes, break-ins, breaches, and accidents in the world of data collection that the CEO of Sony recently announced publicly that he can’t guarantee the security of Sony’s video game network or any other Web system in the “bad new world” of cybercrime.

These are really important questions. We tend to be kind of laid-back about it because we can’t really see it happening on the surface, but the sheer amount of information collected about our kids is staggering. How will this affect them when they are 25? 40? The answer is we don’t really know. But clearly crossing our fingers and hoping for the best isn’t the best reaction.

The first response is awareness, among both parents and their kids. The second is education. How can we fine tune our security settings and firewalls? What kinds of information should never be given out online? How can we stay on top of the information about us and our children that is out there on the web? These are important questions to have with your kids from the time they are old enough to open their first Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters account. These are some of the questions I’ll be looking at in depth in future posts, and I welcome any comments or suggestions from readers.

Great article on Alexandra Robbins’ new book about the social dynamics of high school, called latest book, “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School” (Hyperion). Reassuring words for any parent or kid concerned they aren’t popular enough — geeks are particularly likely to be successful after graduation.

In her latest book, she follows the lives of high school archetypes — like the Loner, the New Girl, the Nerd and the Band Geek — plus one Popular Bitch, the Paris Hilton of her upstate New York high school.

Their stories beautifully demonstrate things we know intrinsically: that being popular is not always the same as being liked, that high school is more rigid and conformist than the military, and that the people who are excluded and bullied for their offbeat passions and refusal to conform are often the ones who are embraced and lauded for those very qualities in college and beyond — what Ms. Robbins has dubbed Quirk Theory.

She also talks about the exhausting work of cultivating an maintaining popularity in high school, and the curious and unprecedented ways this has been magnified by Facebook:

“Facebook is now the online cafeteria,” Ms. Robbins says. “It’s this public space, largely unsupervised, and it mirrors the cafeteria dynamic where you walk in and have to find a place to belong. At school, you have to pick a table. Well, on Facebook you not only have to pick a table, you have to pick who’s at your table and who’s not. And then kids feel they have to be publicists for themselves, maintaining their photos and status. It’s exhausting.”

Food for thought, especially from an ex-geek like me…

This past fall semester, I taught a course at  Concordia called Youth and Media. My students were mostly 2nd and 3rd year university students, roughly between the ages of 20 and 22. Although we had plenty of interesting discussions about music, copyright infringement, video games and mobile phones, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that for them, Youth and Media meant one thing: Facebook.

The stories they told to illustrate their points were not always upsetting, but those that were drew sympathetic gasps and nods from their classmates: house parties that had quickly gotten out of control, misunderstood postings that led to hurt feelings, cyber-bullying and romantic entanglements.

But what quickly emerged from this group of young adults was the fact that Facebook and other social media (MySpace, Friendster, etc.) had become both social conduits and social currency. That means that they used Facebook to communicate to each other, but also to establish their social positions in a group of friends.  Whereas a text message between friends can transmit information, it’s generally just between those people; when something gets posted on your Facebook wall, it’s also a kind of performance. This is what theorist Sherry Turkle calls The Second Self – creating the virtual person that is your reflection online. We’ll revisit this idea in future postings.

In other words, almost all of their social interactions, friendships, romantic relationships, important life events and communication tended to get filtered through these media. This can be true for adults as well as teens, but since establishing one’s identity is a big pre-occupation for adolescents, it happens more with those under 18. Meeting a friend for lunch? Post it on Facebook. Get a new haircut? Ditto. Parties and even informal get-togethers tend to be oriented around the cellphone cameras that will capture images and post them online. In fact, my students told me they had once tried an “unplugged party” – no camera phones, no posting of anything online — and it felt really strange. One young woman told me that life with Facebook  means “you feel you are always performing to the camera.”

What does this have to do with risk? Quite a bit, actually.

Facebook (and other social media) tend to be places where risky activities converge (to repurpose a tech term). That means that teens who are drunk, car surfing, smoking or passed out in a puddle of their own vomit tend to either post about it or capture each other on camera and post them online. Youtube in particular is full of videos of teens doing all sorts of high-risk activities and posting them for posterity. It’s gotten to the point where it’s hard to talk to teens about prevention without being aware that for adolescents, the performance of cool or daring is often more important than the thing itself. And that’s where technology can add to the risk.

Another way the Internet can add to the risk is by radically expanding the communities of influence teens to which teens are exposed, and by providing them with triggers to try high-risk activities. These include pro-anorexia and pro-cutting websites, videos and images of kids high on all sorts of substances. When one of my older daughters went online to look for information on hallucinogenic drugs for a school project, she found many more videos of kids getting high than those with any kind of educational or preventative angle.

So what does all this mean for our pre-teens and teens? Banning them from these sites would be pointless, but it would also miss the opportunity to teach them responsible use. My position is that with younger teens, tapering off as they demonstrate responsible behaviour, is the way to go. Of course, this all depends on each kid, since different levels of supervision may be necessary in different cases.

I’m putting together a posting on guidelines and best practices, but would welcome stories and suggestions from your own experience.