Responsible Parenting And Social Networking

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 25:  In this photo ill...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I listened with interest to this morning’s phone in on Five Live which looked at the worries of youngsters on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace following criticisms of those networks for not putting any kind of help button on the site for people that are experiencing bullying or child abuse. Bebo a site that is perhaps bigger in the UK than the rest of the world has put such a help button on their own social networking site.

What soon became apparent as the debate developed was that:

  • Most parents were unaware that these sites had a starting age limit of 13 years.
  • Parents had allowed some children as young as 7 years to sign up to social networking sites
  • Parents largely gave in to peer pressure such as “but all my friends are on it”.
  • Youngsters like to be seen to have as many friends as possible
  • Some youngsters can have as many as 600 contacts most of whom they don’t know in real life
  • Youngsters are more tech savvy than their parents so parents leave most things to their children

I was surprised at the extent to which some parents were prepared to just blank this aspect of parental responsibility. One local authority had run a free course to help parents get helpful information on how to manage access to social networking sites but only two parents availed themselves of the workshop.

18 age limit on xbox360

An example of age limiting access to such sites comes in the form of  Microsoft who have just launched access to social networking sites on their Xbox 360 games console but are to actively block access for users below the age of 18 by only allowing  gold membership users to access the services (a 12 month paid for fee is payable to unlock access). Don’t go thinking that Microsoft are doing this purely in the name of being responsible. It’s probably just as likely being implemented to reduce their liability as much as anything else.

Whose Responsibility?

I know many parents are just going to use the excuse that their children are the tech savvy members of the family but isn’t it about setting barriers, getting informed, getting help, taking responsibility and putting appropriate measures in place to safeguard your children?

Easy for me to say I know but I must admit I was a little taken aback at the buck passing by some parents with regard to this.

social networking image by 10ch under this creative commons license

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2 thoughts on “Responsible Parenting And Social Networking

  1. With regard to online activities, it is virtually impossible to keep underage children off certain sites. The classical method is to require a credit card for signing up but what child is incapable of “borrowing” a parent’s credit card for 5 minutes?

    Parental supervision is crucial but that is often lacking and not just because of parents’ technical ignorance. Many parents find it easier to assume that their children are sensible enough not to get into trouble than to take the trouble of supervising them. This is as true in the offline world (where their kids are exposed to bullying and drugs) as in the online world.

    We may think that those running sites ought to take a more proactive role in protecting their members but, given that the emphasis is on recruiting huge numbers at the lowest possible cost, they cannot physically do this. I suspect that the checks and balances necessary to ensure a reasonable degree of protection for members of such sites would, in effect, make them impossible to operate as they are currently designed to do.

    We live in a blame culture where, when someone gets hurt, the reaction is that “they” should do something to protect us. We have forgotten that this is a dangerous world where we all have to look out for ourselves and for our nearest and dearest. Until we remember that lesson, kids will continue to be bullied and entrapped by sexual predators.

  2. I didn’t hear the phone-in but I get cross with, what I consider to be, irresponsible parents on a regular basis. I do generally keep my crossness to myself though – it is never a good thing to let rip as after all they have the right to parent as they see fit (up to a point). I’m sure many of them would consider me to be irresponsible!

    My view is that responsible parenting is about preparing your children for their place in the world – rather than just thrusting them out there at 13, 16 or 18 without the skills and experiences to deal with what they may encounter. It applies to all worlds they will encounter. And it is hard work. As a parent you have to look at everything – what “everyone else” does, guidelines, press reports, whatever – and try to think “well, is that right for my child? Do I agree with it? What shall I do?” and make a decision. Irresponsible parents do not do this – they go with the flow without thinking about it, let their child do as he or she pleases or blindly follow every guideline that comes along, or never let their children experience anything on their own.

    With regard to the online world, my own view, and it relates obviously, ONLY to my own children and the world in which they exist, is that they are better off developing some experience of it sooner rather than later. At 10 or 11-years-old children tend to turn to their parents first for advice and help, are happy for me to talk to (at?) them about the dangers of this or that online (or indeed on the road), we can do it all in a low-key way. I think that if you wait till they are 13 they are perhaps less likely to be influenced by a parental point of view (more at the mercy of their friends) and at an age where they are often out to be contrary and carve their own space.

    Mine do use Facebook (with much supervision, and many rules – they have to check with me before they add a friend for instance) and surprisingly I have found it to be an overwhelmingly positive experience for us all. I love to watch their little chats in comment boxes with people from all of their disparate worlds (my mother, my daughter at Uni, people they met in Oz, ski club people, school friends) which I can dip in and out of whenever I please. It is actually a way I can stay more in touch with high school world than I might otherwise have been able to do. They are not allowed to use any other social networking site, must not remove me as a friend (they looked horrified when I suggested they might ever consider doing that!) and must not use instant messaging. They’re my rules and I am happy with them for now.

    My view of most things is that it is fine to have guidelines for parents to look at, but that ultimately we must make our own decisions. I do not automatically let my children do the same things at one particular age – each child is different and what is appropriate for one at say 11 may well not be for another.

    It’s the same with everything really – crossing roads, playing out alone, doing dangerous sports – they need to test their limits within a safe supportive environment – with a lot of preparation and someone there to support them if they do encounter a problem.

    I have no objections to a button though. Anything that helps vulnerable children who are not being adequately supervised seems like a good idea to me.

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