Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Frenzied by Facebook

Many adults lag behind kids when it comes to technology and the Internet. When this lag plays out in the social networking sphere, parents are not always in the best position to point out all the potential risks and dangers to their kids because they themselves haven't quite grasped the vastness of the network and its implications. This is no excuse for parents to pass on teaching and drilling caution. All this really means is that we have to try harder to see the big picture and not shy away from delivering the pressing message and cautionary tale. If you are going to allow your child to enter the Facebook frenzy regardless of his or her age (note that the Facebook terms of use require an acknowledgment that the user is over the age of 13), you need to talk and walk them through the realities on a regular basis. They are unlikely to fully understand and appreciate the risks on their own and, even if they do, they are likely to forget them as quickly as they "friend" the next person in cyberspace who is not, in fact, a friend of theirs. Teach and repeat! Cards on the table - I feel very strongly that kids under the age of 13 should not be using Facebook. Many parents clearly feel otherwise. Here is my cheat sheet on risks inherent in Facebook use for youngsters of any age:
  • Facebook friends are not friends.
  • Social networking requires a presence on the Internet, which opens the user up to the possibility of being cyber-stalked or cyber-bullied or the terrifying possibility of becoming known to a child predator.
  • Social networking requires the making of judgment calls. How sound is your child's judgment? Are you sure? 
    • Note that colleges and employers are open about the fact that they vet candidates by looking at their Facebook pages and profiles. 
    • Note that "guilt by association" is alive and well in this context. Maybe you can vouch for your own child's judgment but can you vouch for the judgment of all of his or her "friends"? Are you sure their messages do not reflect poorly on your child? 
    • Best line from the movie The Social Network: "The Internet isn't written in pencil. It's written in ink". Your posts and those of your children and their "friends" cannot be erased.
  • The accumulation of Facebook friends has become a status symbol. As a result, many young users have hundreds or thousands of "friends". It takes seconds for one of those friends to pass along something from your child's wall to their  friends and so on and so on and so on.
  • Facebook was created by a hacker and is not hacker-proof itself. 
Many schools are offering Internet safety programs for parents. These are great because we need to be aware of the risks to keep our children safe and to prevent them from inadvertently affecting the safety or circumstance of another child. Information in this day and age can be terrifying, which makes it all the more crucial to have and know.

For the young adult in your life, consider suggesting Katie Finn's Top 8, the story of a high schooler whose "Friendverse" page is hacked and horrible things are posted about her. The sequel, What's Your St@tus? came out this summer.

In the world of technology beyond Facebook, young adults are urged to delve into the world, mind and writing of Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and For the Win

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