Sunday, October 19, 2014

Social Media & Kids

Last night, I read an article about a kid who used Facebook to bully a girl in his school, was caught, and now his parents face criminal charges for not taking the page down.  The kid received punishment at school, but laws took over school policy to hold somebody accountable for the vicious cyber attack that was put on the girl.  

When I read the article, my first thought was "Why was nobody monitoring his usage?".  The article did state that the parents had been unaware of the problem, and the page wasn't even taken down for over a year because the parents had no idea who the person was or what page had been created to bully the girl.  

In this instance, I truly hold the parents at fault for not being more involved with their child's social media usage.  But, that article isn't the reason for my blog today.  Oh no.  It's the comment that was made by the person who posted the article.  Now, I consider her a friend... and I hope that she knows that this post stems from the fact that I LOVE a good debate and I'm not personally attacking her.  But, this post stems from the fact that she stated that children have no business being on Facebook, and that parents should not allow their children anywhere near Facebook.

So, here goes my opinion on that comment in 3.....2.....1....

Both of my teenage kids are on Facebook.  I have their login information and their passwords.  I was the one that set up their pages.  My kids use Facebook to connect to family members that live overseas, friends, and to play the silly Facebook games.  Their profile is locked down, and only friends can see what they post.  I also check friend requests and occasionally go through their friends list to see who they've added.  I read their messages.  I approve photos that they post.  My kids know this and understand that's the number one rule for having a Facebook page.  If they don't like me snooping around, then they don't need to have a Facebook page.  

Now, I'm fully aware of possibilities that come from online predators.  That's why I keep such a close eye on my kids' usage, but rather than sheltering them away from social media, I try and teach my kids about online safety, and they know what they can and can't post about themselves.  

The truth is, Facebook was originally started by a couple of college kids that wanted a forum for the very purpose of connecting with friends.  In fact, recent studies show that as little as 3 years ago, kids between the ages of 13-24 made up 70% of Facebook users.  I even remember the days, a few years ago, when you'd ask an adult about Facebook and they'd say something like "that website all those kids are using", or an adult would refer to Facebook as "the Facebook".  

Over the past three years, there has been 3 million teens that have given up their Facebook account and moved to other social media apps such as Twitter, SnapChat, and Instagram.  They consider those sites more "kid oriented", and not overrun with adults complaining about their lives.  Makes sense, I suppose.  I guarantee Twitter will be the next site axed from the list among kids and teens.

However, studies have also shown that in the past three years, Facebook has been used more and more for educational purposes and to teach online safety.  I know that Peanut is a member of a couple of online groups, started by her teachers, for the purpose of discussing school stuff, assignments, and events.  I know several teachers that have started Facebook pages to connect with their students and parents, share announcements, offer homework help, etc.  Heck, I've even been to professional development classes that promote using Facebook and Twitter as classroom tools.  

Kids having Facebook pages isn't the problem here.  Parental involvement is.  I'm honestly so tired of hearing people complain that kids shouldn't be using this or seeing that.  Turn on a TV and the kids are going to see just as much trash as people post on Facebook.  People cuss, there's nudity, and there are things said that people don't want their kids to hear.  And I'm still talking about the TV.  In fact, I think kids are exposed to less smut on Facebook, because I know full well how strict Facebook's policy is on nudity.  I tried posting a picture of Jelly in the bathtub when she was little, and it was removed within minutes for indecent exposure.  None of her "parts" were showing, but the photo was quickly picked up as indecent and removed. 

Now, I've seen my share of adult conversations and inappropriate pictures and jokes shared on my feed.  But you know what I realized?  Those things were posted by people I am friends with.  They weren't just spammed on to my wall...the people I CHOOSE to be friends with post some of that stuff. Now, my sense of humor understands the humor of some of my friends, and I'm OK with it.  But, as a parent, I monitor for such actions and will remove a person from my children's friends list is that kind of stuff is common with one of their friends.  

Facebook has its flaws, but the reality is, you add people you want to add.  Nobody forces anyone to accept a friend request.  Nobody forces anyone to show off everything they write to the world.  There are plenty of settings and protocols in place to keep a somewhat watchful eye over what appears on that news feed.  

Thanks to Facebook, Peanut has been able to connect to her biological father's family.  Something that probably wouldn't have happened without Facebook.  Butter is able to stay connected to my family members that I no longer have any contact with.  Both Peanut and Butter are able to connect with family members in England that they've never met, but can get to know through sharing a few posts and messages.  

The real problem with all of this is internet monitoring.  As a parent, I think it's my duty to keep a watchful eye over my kids' Facebook usage.  If kids are on Facebook posting inappropriate stuff, or being bombarded with inappropriate stuff, then it's the parents job to weed it out and do something about it.  I refuse to try and keep my kids sheltered from social media, because the honest truth is... someone has to teach them to use it.   It's not something that's going away, and kids need to understand the correct ways to use it.  

There's just no way that a person can "protect" their children from everything that's out there.  TV, video games, internet, and even playing outside has it's dangers.  That's not my kids' fault, that's society.  I may not like it, but there's nothing I can do about all that.  What I can do is teach my kids to be mindful and safe.  Ask Butter how quickly his Facebook privileges were suspended when I received an email that he'd posted in a Facebook group without my permission.  I have access to the email accounts that are connected to their Facebook pages, so I can keep tabs on stuff without logging in every five minutes.  

I hear people say that's it's not right to snoop around on my children, and that I should respect their privacy.  Really?  OK.  Well, they are free to write in a journal without me reading it.  They are free to talk to their friends at school without me asking their friends what they said.  That's having privacy.  But, what they do on the internet is absolutely my business, and I have every right to know.  They knew that going in, it was part of the deal.  And they now know that they shouldn't post anything bad, because I will see it and then it's goodbye Facebook.  

My friend, who originally posted the comment, also stated that she has to be mindful of what she posts because there are young people on her friends list.  Well, I have an answer for that:  Either remove them if you want to post stuff you consider inappropriate for those youngsters, or set up friend lists and only post to those lists. 

I have several lists on my Facebook page:  Family, general friends, high school friends, work friends, etc.  When I post something, I can actually choose which people see the things I post. All of my stuff is private from non-friends, but if I post something that only my family needs to see... then I just post it to that list and only those people can see it.  If I need to post something that's work related, I can post in that list and only my work friends will see it.

You see, despite Facebook's flaws, they do have some good tools that are available to users.  But, having my kids and work friends on my Facebook page also does some good in monitoring what I post.  The entire world doesn't need to know who I'm mad at, the awful things I'd like to say about certain things, or see pictures of me falling over drunk (if I did that kind of stuff).  I use my audience as a  form of checks and balance.  Every time I post something, I think about who's going to see it.  Some people may think that's not right, but it helps keep me inline.  Because you know something else?  It's not just kids I have to worry about.  I know that my bosses are on Facebook, I know that people I work with are on Facebook, I know that some of the parents of my students are on Facebook... and I'm kept under a microscope all of the time.  Teaching isn't the only profession that monitors social media usage.  Pretty much all companies and colleges use Facebook as a way to learn more about the people they are hiring and accepting in to the schools.  

So, instead of keeping my kids away, I'm teaching them how to be smart with their Facebook.  Am I perfect at it?  No.  Do I see every little thing as it happens?  No.  But, the way I look at it, I might as well let them understand the importance of social media etiquette now... because social media is a MAJOR part of today's society.  

Kids do have a place on Facebook, as long as parents keep an eye on things.  I see nothing wrong with that.  

That's my opinion.


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