Social networking sites such as Facebook can be a fun way of sharing information, but for parents of young teenagers there may also be concerns about privacy, bullying and boundaries. Author and teacher Claire Redmond has some advice
TEENAGERS tend to look bewildered when adults tell them that there was no internet when they were growing up. Their logical minds prompt them to ask what was there before Facebook and how on earth did people research projects for school? The recent smashhit film The Social Network explores the moment when Facebook was created, and shows why it has become so popular so quickly – ultimately it is all about that most basic of human requirements: the need to connect.
Since the dawn of the new millennium we've been introduced to a plethora of new developments in technology, ranging from iPods, Skype, Blu-ray, Wi-Fi, iPhones and Wii to social networking sites such as Bebo and Facebook. These new words have entered our vocabulary, in turn making words such as VHS video recorders, pagers, camera film as archaic as the dial phone that you remember growing up. The term Facebook generation, or, Generation F, identifies those who are growing up in a world where the use of online social networking is not just common but ubiquitous. Although most of us 'old fogies' have learned how to use Facebook, many teachers and parents still struggle to keep up with the changes in communication that have come thick and fast in the past decade. As teenagers tweet, send texts and use Facebook, the older generation desperately tries to figure out how this or that new site, app or gadget actually works.
Facebook and how to befriend it
With 500 million users, it seems as if most of the world is on Facebook, but if you're not one of them, well why not sign up? Make friends with Facebook, and gain an insight into this online world and what your child is being exposed to. One of the many positives about the cyber generation is that it doesn't discriminate in terms of age or gender, unlike many other real-life institutions! Facebook is open to anyone 13 years and older. Users can create their own profiles with photos, videos and information about themselves. Friends can browse the profiles of other friends and write messages on their pages.
Bullying and Facebook
Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter are like interactive diaries. Teenagers can write their every thought for their friends and random voyeurs to see. Private messages can also be exchanged between users and a relationship built up through this interaction. A study carried out at Trinity College Dublin found that bullying via social networking sites and text messages is a very real part of teenagers' lives. Out of almost 3,000 students surveyed in eight secondary schools, one in seven teenagers had been targeted by bullies via the internet or their mobile phones. The proof of bullying is no longer visible through the black eye or the split lip. Cyber-bullying is the use of technology to harass or intimidate someone, and there are steps you can take to prevent this kind of behaviour if it occurs. (See www.internetsafety.ie for some excellent resources and guides on how to prevent cyber-bullying, and on all aspects of internet safety.)
How to monitor your child's Facebook page
Encourage your children to customise their privacy settings so that only their chosen friends can access their information. Friend requests need not be accepted. Educate yourself and them about how to use the internet with care. Just as you once warned about road safety and not talking to strangers, apply the same logic of encouraging responsibility and awareness here. Remind teenagers to: - Never share their passwords with anyone - Use the privacy settings - Block anyone who is sending unwanted content and messages.
What if Facebook is interfering with homework? Teenagers may stay up late using Facebook and go to school tired the next day. Impose a time limit on its use, similar to use of the computer in general. Get to know the distinctive Facebook screen so you can tell at a distance if your child is using it while supposedly researching a project!
Facebook and the family
As a family, establish what information you are comfortable sharing and encourage your children to respect this. For example, do you want photographs of family gatherings on the site? Remember, photographs of children under 13 years of age can be removed from Facebook following a formal report from the child's parent or legal guardian.
Mother & Babies