Family Matters: Social networks aren’t making it easier for the parents

The most important thing is not to be complacent; ask your kids which social networks they use and educate them about the risks involved.

As a parent you have the obligation to educate your kids (photo credit: Courtesy)
As a parent you have the obligation to educate your kids
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Alex asks: “My son is 13 years old. Last week I discovered that he has registered himself a Facebook account. He claims that all his classmates already own one, and they use it only to communicate and share photos with each other. I think he’s too young for this, but he doesn’t seem to listen to reason. What can I do to get him to listen to me?”
By the time my oldest son was 18 months old, he already knew how to operate my smartphone and play the family videos he liked watching. By the time he was two he already knew how to find my mom on the speed dial list and give her a call, all by himself.
Alex’s son was born into a world very different to the one Alex grew up in. Computers, the Internet, smartphones are all concepts we as parents didn’t grow up with.
The social networks aren’t making it easier for the parents, with Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp offering multiple exciting ways to communicate and share information with family, friends and, at times, complete strangers.
It seems that almost every kid in middle school is part of at least one Whatsapp group and many are sharing their most private details on Facebook.
Alex is responsible for his son’s safety and education. How can he make his son understand that prohibiting him from using Facebook at the age of 13 is for his own good?
Demonstrate the risks involved
Facebook is a nice social network that allows you to keep in touch with your friends. It is, however, also a platform through which strangers can potentially trace your every move and learn some personal information about you, especially if you haven’t defined your privacy settings well.
Young kids are not aware that when a boy or a girl their age, with a cute profile picture, asks to be friends with them on Facebook, that could turn out to be a fake account of an older person or someone from the opposite sex who may wish to harm them or take advantage of them.
And perhaps one of the biggest problems is that kids tend to post pictures of themselves, sometimes in embarrassing or indecent poses. These pictures can be seen by anyone and can be used by peers to make fun of them or worse.
These are all risks that teenagers are unaware of, or that they don’t seem to appreciate.
As a parent you have the obligation to educate your children as to the dangers of social networks, just like you teach them about the importance of stopping at a red light and using a pedestrian crossing properly.
You can do it by sitting down with your child and plainly explaining it to them, or you can take a more creative approach and present them with some articles and television clips that have been made especially to address these risks.
You can even have your teenager sit with you and find information about these risks. Perhaps when he does the research himself, he’ll better understand why you’re so concerned about him.
Keep a close eye
If you choose to allow your teenager to participate in one of the social networks mentioned above, you might want to consider making an agreement with them about monitoring their activity on these channels.
Many parents decide to place the family computer(s) in a public area in the house, where they can have a quick peek now and again at what their kids are up to.
Other parents ask their kids not to add anyone they don’t personally know to their network, and to report to them about anything that they’ve seen or read online that they find disturbing or suspicious.
To sum it all up, the most important thing is not to be complacent. Ask your kids which social networks they use. Educate them about the risks involved and ask them to come to you with any question they have in the matter. Discussing your concerns can help in the development of trust between you - your children may understand the rationale behind your restrictions and you may begin to see them as the mature young adults they want to be.
This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.

Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. She recently published her first children's book teaching conflict resolution in the family on Amazon. If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at [email protected]