What is social media? Today I felt I should raise a concern that is manifest in all our minds, especially those of us with tweens and teenagers. There is no doubt that it is now the 'normal' we live in. Back in our day, we were lucky if we had a desktop to play pacman on, let alone our own mobiles with data packages. Whereas providing and enabling your child to access varying degrees of internet is a very personal decision, there are certain facts that we should all be aware of. There is no doubt that every tool of modern science can be beneficial to us but the sad truth is that it is also blatantly misused and abused and may cause damage that can lead to serious ramifications. I'll try to briefly sum these up keeping it to the point...
Yes, facebook and twitter allows for growing friendships, a voice to your inner self, a chance to express your thoughts and all near free. Through a click of a button, we have the world at our fingertips. Libraries? Encyclopedias? What
are were those? But back to my first question, what is social media: These are online tools like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that offer different ways of sharing information in real time and connecting with friends. Kids get an opportunity to magnify their lives like never before. But there is possible fallout:
1. Lack of the 'personal' touch: Many a kid will have hundreds of followers, but won't know how to act on a personal level at a party or in a study group, feeling awkward and hence becomes more retreated towards his cell phone.
2. Cyber bullying: The act of 'unfriending' and posting humiliating pictures etc. of fellow school mates is on the rise, causing many to fall victim to depression that leads to more difficult situations like phobias and even suicide. Cyber bullying can be even more dangerous sometimes, than personal bullying:
3. Predators: Many sick minded people out there lurk on popular social media sites targeting young vulnerable children looking for attention and often easily manipulate them into divulging personal information that could lead to unimaginable consequences.
4. Pornography: There are cleverly hidden ads and links here and there that can lead to dirty and inappropriate sites. Did you know that the people who run these sites also pluck out pictures of your innocent kids and publish them in a way that make them vulgar? Photoshop helps here. Did you also know that spam mail can actually enable a virus to piggyback on your skype account to allow a perpetrator to access your webcam without even the light going on so it appears that you are not aware he is watching? Oh yes it is true.
5. Addiction: It is infact like an addiction, this leads to less outdoor fun, failing grades and even eating disorders,
Yes it is all the stuff a parent's nightmares are made of, but we can do some little things here and there to help, here are some pointers that you may find to be helpful to avoid all the above:
1. Open communication and rules: First and foremost is trust, when giving permission, discuss guidelines, no clicking doubtful links, no friending strangers, discussions when in doubt and random checks. You must stress this is all for their protection. Above all, no divulging of personal information. Also try to keep the computer in a central location and limit the use to certain timings.
2. Child friendly checks: Many social media sites have certain options where you can turn on child safety, this filters out age inappropriate matter. You can do more research on that on google for any particular site, some sites allow complete blocks to improper material. Also set privacy options to the best of your ability,
3. Filtering Software: There are softwares that are available on the market that allow you to monitor and filter, keep checks and and do much more when your kids are online. Popular ones are 'My Mobile Watchdog', 'Net Nanny' and 'Puresight PC'.
4. Avoid Surveys, questionnaires and free giveaways: These tend to be bogus, may have a virus and often ask you to divulge personal information through a reward, a bribery of sorts.
5. Password safety: Urge kids to change their passwords every so often using alphanumeric sequences, That goes for us parents too, its the best way to prevent accounts from getting hacked.
6. Online reputation: Often people related to your child, be it their friends or relatives or even prospective college heads or prospective employers will go through your social media trying to determine if you are reputable enough and not a trouble maker. Teach your child about social media manners and the importance of a good reputation online.
7. Keeping up: Keep up with the latest trends, children can make accounts on various gaming sites that include creating avatars. Though some are education friendly, you never know who is on the other side of any other avatar so warn your children about the dangers of the unknown. A very popular one my own kids play is 'Poptropica'.
I know it is a difficult task but one that has to be reckoned with. I hope this gives you a gist of what is at risk, how to minimize the negatives and maximize the positives,