Just How Influential Are Social Networking Sites for Teens?

Well, so my child is on social media. I don’t know how many or which ones but he’s there just for fun and to keep in touch with his peers. How harmful could that be?”

Well, it could be harmful, as the finding of this study shows. According to the study, teens who see friends smoking and drinking alcohol in photographs posted on social networking sites are more likely to indulge in such behaviour themselves!

The study indicates that friends’ online behaviours are a viable source of peer influence.

The University of South California study is based on a survey of 1,563 10th-grade students from the El Monte Union High School District in Los Angeles County in October 2010 and April 2011 about their online and offline friendship networks and the frequency of their social media use, smoking and alcohol consumption.

This finding is significant considering that 95% of US kids in the age group of 12 to 17 access the net daily and of these 80% communicate via online social networking sites.

Now consider similar statistics for India. A  McAfee study titled “Tweens and Technology Report 2013” revealed that  70% kids stating that they have signed up on FB.  On an average, they open an account at the age of 13! Just think of the effect peers would have at this impressionable age!

There is a reason why your Pappu has suddenly started posting these macho pics of his in leather jackets, boots et all. In all probability his friends have been doing the same and earning rave reviews. Or why Sheena wants to upload all her party pics; she doesn’t want to seem like the only one whose parents don’t throw her hep parties!!

So we have snaps of kids swimming, dancing, smoking, drinking beer on the beach, and trying out new clothes in trial rooms of malls-what have you! They do it for the fun of it; to find a niche for themselves in the cruelly competitive world of kids or just to ‘let everyone know’ what they have been up to. And a snap that looks cool & receives ‘likes’ will be considered immediately as an accepted behaviour-including habits like smoking and drinking.

As a parent who has gone through the tumultuous teens yourself, you know this was bound to happen. Kids will be kids-they will explore, experiment, stretch boundaries, dare and imitate. However, there is a big difference-their life is digitally recorded and open to public viewing and comments. Hence, unlike us who probably were weaned away from the influence of the popular kids once we left the school, playground, hangouts; these kids stay connected even when they are physically far apart. So the influence is much, much stronger.

What can you do?

First have an open discussion with them about your family rules and expectations. The children should be well aware of their boundaries.

Next befriend them on all their networking sites. That’s what they have to do in return for the privilege of being allowed to join these sites. You can slowly pull out as they grow older and wiser.

In case they lie to you about the networking sites they are on or don’t ‘friend’ you, you may want to revoke the internet privilege. Include this in your set of Internet rules.

Keep an eye on the type of friends the child has and the pics or posts he likes. That will give you an indication of the future. Use stories you have come across or incidents with the kid’s friends to drive home your values.

It’s difficult to control the activities of an older teen. But if your family has strong values, open communication systems and trust-based relationships, it surely won’t be a problem.

And most importantly, use comprehensive security software like McAfee LiveSafe on all your devices, including your smartphones. This way you will be able to supervise your child better online

How To let Kids have a Fun Time Playing Online Games Sans Any Security Concerns

“As weekends approach; like every kid, my son too gets excited about playing his most favourite games. I expect this since he loves playing video games and online games, without any interruption.

Now that doesn’t mean I approve of kids remaining glued to the TV or monitor for hours on end without any kind of physical exercise. I encourage a judicious mix of both to make the vacations worthwhile. What’s more, the husband looks forward to return home early to engage in a good bout of gaming with the son while daughter and I roll our eyes, shake our head and say “Boys!” with a long sigh and curl down on the sofa to watch a rom-com.

But here’s letting you on a secret – I enjoy playing games too. Yes, I really do. Just love the adrenalin rush and sense of competition! I also enjoy the way my son tutors me while we play and I love watching him as he drools over the graphics, sound, story board and controls. So when I can snatch a few moments, I turn on the monitor and invite him to play with me. Great bonding time! Sometimes, daughter joins us and the three of us laugh, shout, and fight, and time just flies by.

Here’s a checklist to keep my kids safe from the virtual threats of gaming:

  1. McAfee Total Protection (with family protection included) installed and updated
  2. Monitor/TV strategically placed in the drawing room, with the screen visible from other parts of the room
  3. A selection of video games rented/bought (pre-approved by kids) whose ESRB ratings conform to my kids’ age
  4. Look up the net to gather the latest info on the games children play online and probable threats
  5. Check the parental controls on the PC/XBOX and customise settings

In addition, we have some strictly-to-be followed rules for Internet usage that I take care to repeat without fail, as often as I find it necessary. They include:

i.    You have to play within the hours fixed for you. Exceeding your time will earn you penalty

ii.   You should not indulge in chatting with strangers while playing online games

iii.   You must never share information like name, age, gender or address while gaming

iv.   You  must not  play games that have not been pre-approved by parents

v.    If you want to play online games with strangers, inform us first and do so only after we have checked and approved

vi.  Under no circumstances are you to use our credit or debit cards to buy apps/games

vii.  If a gamer wants to meet you outside, bothers you with inappropriate questions or language, inform us IMMEDIATELY. Don’t leave it for later

It also helps, if parents and kids together take this McAfee online Safety Quiz. You would be able to check your awareness of online threats and be assured that kids will play safely. Do reiterate that the internet is a privilege given to them. So it’s their duty to use it correctly and responsibly.