It all happens so fast. One year we’re all about twirling in tutu skirts and fairy wings, next thing I know, Sophia goes to camp in France, Lily is navigating through emotions with friends, and Stella is having big conversations with even bigger words. My girls have grown. And unlike what our parents went through when they were slowly releasing us into the real world, we have to deal with both the real world and the online world.
My kids are not gadget-savvy. If my husband had his way, they would be. But I chose to keep them off social media and to limit their gadget time. As a result — and I can take credit for this — they are creative and outdoorsy kids. Ok, the outdoorsy part is my husband’s. He takes them biking, hiking and such.
Some of Sophia’s classmates were on Facebook as early as first grade. Soph never felt left out. She was busy playing in the park with her BFF neighbour. When her classmates came up with a FB group for school-related announcements in Grade 7, that was the only time we gave her a Facebook account. She was 13. The “legal” age for minors to be on the social media site. Til this day, Soph can’t really manage to navigate through FB. All she knows is that there are some cute puppy and kitten videos on it.
My kids have a little community on Facebook called The Strawbunny. This is to share their art and creative expressions. It is managed by Patrick and me. Occasionally we do post photos of our children. They were born into this already – each birth announcement was featured in a magazine or in my show. However, we keep their presence online under control. And they are ok with it.
I feel strongly about the safety of minors on the internet that I wrote a section on it in my book. The threats are real, folks. UNICEF recently came out with a baseline study on violence against children in the Philippines. While there are predators online who are waiting to pounce on children, there are also friends and acquaintances who sometimes overstep boundaries and create a very stressful environment for your kid – yes, bullying. So parents, please be aware of your children’s digital tracks. You have to know about all their activities online.
In mid-November, I was invited by Facebook to join a workshop on safety. This was attended by a few journalists. They released some valuable information that can help all of us manoeuvre through Facebook with safety. The biggest concerns in our forum then was the proliferation of fake sites and hate-mongering. Facebook has now improved its mechanism to identify these unwanted activities. In “Report Post” there is now a slug for “it’s a false news story.”
After the workshop, I had a brief discussion with the officers from Facebook head quarters. I asked them more about the need for keeping kids safe on Facebook and all social media sites. There are way too many minors below 13 on social media. As it turns out, every day, parents in the Philippines come to Facebook to ask for advice in Groups, share pictures of their kids or just stay connected with family in different places. And for many parents, they also have questions about how Facebook works once their kids join.
Facebook just launched the Parent’s Portal, a new section of the Facebook Safety Center. It will include guides for parents about how Facebook works, tips for talking with kids about staying safe online and resources from experts around the world.
Here are six tips to help parents kick off a digital discussion so that both parents and their children get the most out of their Facebook experience:
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.
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.
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 streaming music 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.
My guiding principle is this — I don’t allow my girls to go out unsupervised in public areas. The internet is one big public area. So while they are minors, they are completely under my care. They are not to run around the internet without my knowledge and presence. All phones are turned over to our family charging-dock every night at an agreed time. Their school and places of activities cannot be published. Photos are not geo-tagged. Etc…
There are many other little rules we have. Some of them are in my book. I’d be curious to know what your policies are in your family.