News Analysis

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Chris Donoghue: Mum, stop snooping on my Facebook page

Chris Donoghue

Published 03/04/2013 | 05:00

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PARENTS are not their children's friends, not even on Facebook. For generations the good chats with friends have taken place when parents leave the room.

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Why then do many parents think that covertly checking their children's profiles is for the greater good? Isn't it just the modern equivalent of snooping through bedroom drawers looking for a diary to read?

I know a mother, we'll call her 'The Sheriff', who insists her teenagers hand over their phones at night and does not allow laptops in bedrooms after dark.

She checks all the devices for the day's activity and is trying to do what authoritarian governments around the world are trying to do, control the internet.

But she's a lightweight compared to 'The Stalker', a mother of two who has openly admitted to me to setting up, posing as and maintaining the Facebook profile of a 16-year-old girl who has become 'friends' with her daughter's account. She has access to everything.

It is their natural motive to protect from cyber-bullying and grooming, but it has turned into a counter-productive obsession and gross invasion of privacy.

Thanks to a laughable Oireachtas hearing on social media a couple of weeks ago, which showed how uninformed some of our public representatives are, 'fraping' (that's slang for 'Facebook raping' – where someone posts on your open account) and 'sexting' (sex texting) are now on their radars.

These parents, and thousands of others, cannot trust that children will be responsible online . . . an internet bogeyman is on their minds.

However, a technology is not good or bad, it can simply be used for good or bad. Teenagers on the internet are a prime example.

I was recently at a conference on cyber-bullying organised by the student council of my old school. The event was attended by about 200 students from different schools.

The older ones were born in the late 1990s, the first years attending were Millennium babies. All are now 21st Century teenagers whose entire lives are online. Only their granny is offline these days and even she knows there is a new tablet in town.

Much of the talk of teens and their lives online is about negative issues, however the technological ability and savvy of our teenagers is also a huge plus.

The longest they will be disconnected from the internet is while sleeping. Many will meet their future partners online, they do their homework on a screen and already their identities and how they socialise exist in both a virtual and real world. It is a knot that will not be untangled.

I did, however, leave the conference worried about a couple of things.

Firstly, the students were not 100pc sure of their privacy settings. Secondly, a girl told us she had put a question about herself on the ask.fm site and was waiting for the anonymous answers. She said while they might be mean, at least she would know what people think about her. An insight like this concerned me a lot.

And it should be remembered that Facebook is not the entire internet and it is simply impossible to monitor everything children do online and everywhere they go. They are smarter than their parents in this space, they know more about it.

That does not mean they will not do silly and worrying things like the girl above or that parents cannot equip children to deal with the bad aspects they will face.

An acquaintance who is a teacher, recently spoke to the girls in her class, at their parents' request, about 'sexting' and being asked to text pictures by boys and why they should not do it.

This was better parenting than checking the girls' phones after an event.

Another suggestion from conference was that parents should stay away from their teenagers on Facebook, but allow a trusted person – like an older cousin or sibling – let them know if something improper happened. But not to snoop.

No one walks into a room and openly speaks with friends in front of their parents. The room is now virtual, but the same rules apply.

iTrust is an application parents need to develop.

Chris Donoghue is the presenter of Newstalk Breakfast.

Irish Independent

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