To friend or Not To Friend My Teen on Facebook – That Is the Question

A very oft asked question at every talk I give is “Should I befriend my tween or teen on Facebook?” I understand the predicament of parents, having two netizens at home myself. There is always a quandary; how will the child construe it? Will he accept the friend request or will he rebel at this ‘intrusion’ into his privacy? Will a request be the harbinger of a series of parent-child spates?

I have a very simple approach to this. If the child is below 13, then I would no way permit him to sign up on Facebook by falsifying age. I am against being a party to deliberate fact falsification. Moreover, the social media is definitely not a safe place for a child to explore alone.

For a teen, I would suggest you prepare him a bit. Like talk about the need for joining this site; what he plans to do there; whether he would be willing to share any problems he faces with his siblings or parents? Also take the help of recent news to point out the dangers present on any networking site and ask how he will handle them. Once he signs up, request him to befriend you, with a promise that you would not embarrass him online. Teens are very sensitive about these things. If he resists, explain that sometimes an adult eye sees things more clearly and long ahead than a child’s eye. Say you would be like a security patrol that quietly roams the street, without invading anyone’s privacy, to ensure everyone is safe and no untoward element is lurking about.

I will give you some good reasons why a parent should befriend the child on Facebook. The findings of the McAfee India survey titled, “Tweens and Technology Report 2013” highlights that Indian kids are going online from an early age, in large numbers and for longer hours. And most of them are on Facebook!

Check this out:

  • 53% of online tweens are online daily between 1-3 hours!! Well, I’d like to be where my kids are, for sure
  • 70% kids stating that they have signed up on FB. That makes it a happy hunting ground for cyber crooks like Spammers and paedophiles, does it not? Monitoring needed here!
  • 88% of FB users share photos of themselves while 73% share photos of family & friends. Somebody, preferably the parent, needs to monitor this initially and point out which pics should not be shared and why and why it is not right to tag people without permission
  • 41% of the tweens surveyed share information about themselves over FB. You and I know how dangerous this can be, exposing the child to kidnappers and child stalkers. The kids are gullible and easily influenced. It’s better if you periodically monitor the child’s page to ensure that the child was not being coerced to share private information. See what happened to this girl when she invited her friends for a party on Facebook
  • 36% of online tweens have spoken to a stranger online. Well, I’d suggest you keep close tabs on friend list and install McAfee Total or McAfee LiveSafe to monitor chats
  • 12 year olds are more likely to have seen nasty comments online than 8 year olds (33% vs. 16%). You can actually use the child’s Facebook wall to teach him about bullying and its negative consequences. Also, you can discuss responses to Cyberbullying, if your child ever faces any. In case you find your child to be aggressive online, you can again take preventive measures. But for this, you have to be friends with the child on Facebook
  • 89% of the parents are friends with their child on Facebook, so why shouldn’t you be?

One very important lesson that you must give your child when he decides to sign up on Facebook is that he must be very, very particular about who he becomes friends with and what he will be sharing with them. Set strict rules about not befriending strangers, even if it happens to be the brother of a friend’s friend that he had met at some function. Give him the McAfee mantra—STOP, THINK, CONNECT.

Do remember, however, that it would be in your interest to maintain an invisible profile on your child’s wall. Do not comment on any picture or post. Share your feelings with your child personally. Never try to penalize your child by rebuking him on his page. It’s one of the worst things you could do to your child.

Relationships thrive on trust and respect and it has to work both ways. Also, little things like security software on all internet-enabled devices go a long way to ensure your equanimity and your child’s protection. 🙂

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A-Abuse; B-Bully; C-Cyberbullying- The New ABCs of Cyber Age Threats

I know cyberbullying is a much-discussed subject today and parents are quite overwhelmed by all the data deluging them. That’s not a surprising, considering we are immigrants to the net age and have no experience to fall back upon. In our times, the computer was just that big desktop kept in the family room that was used by the entire family in turns. Social media was in the nascent stage we could connect with others only via e-mails.

But times have changed. Today, kids hardly use the bulky family desktop for surfing. They now have access to the net via smartphones, laptops, tablets and even gaming devices! These devices afford mobility too, so just imagine how many pairs of eyes a Mother will need to monitor kids on all of them? But we still want our kids to be safe, to be protected from cyber crooks and abusers.

As parents, we have the responsibility to prepare our kids to face problems online, just like we prepare them for real life. So we need to have a clear understanding of the problem, or else how do we help our kids?

What is cyberbullying?

It is a kind of bullying that happens online- through e-mails, chatting, and instant messages or on social media platforms. The bully does not feel much remorse or fear because he is well-hidden by the anonymity offered by the net. Cyber bullies can be classmates, online acquaintances, and even anonymous users, but most often they do know their victims

Popular ways in which kids are bullied online:

  • Friends form a cartel against a kid and block him from joining a group
  • Make fun on rating sites
  • Flood the kid’s inbox with e-mails or texts, teasing him about a weakness or failure
  • Wrangle out secrets or make funny videos on the sly and share them online
  • Hack account and share inappropriate content in his name

The effects of cyberbullying can be devastating. It kills a child’s confidence in self and trust in others. It can lead to poor academic performance, depression and even suicides; if it gets out of hand.

Here is a short to-do list for parents that’s easy to fathom and follow.

  1. Teach your kids about cyber etiquette and responsibility

The first thing you should do when your child starts surfing is to clarify what constitutes good behaviour online and be strict about practicing them. They should not befriend strangers, pass rude remarks on any posts/pics or stalk a person. Internet is a privilege and therefore there are related duties. Social media are platforms to connect, share, explore and learn. They are not to be used for personal vendetta.

  1. Reiterate that they never should share passwords to their accounts with even best friends

Bullies often manage to wrangle out the passwords from unsuspecting victims and then share inappropriate content in their names. Help your child set up difficult to guess passwords and frequently remind them never to share. Also stress that if he suspects his password has been compromised, he should immediately change it.

  1. Listen and watch

You need to really, really listen to your kids every day-of their school activities, their friends, the arguments, the fights, the rumours, the hurts—everything they talk about. This way you will have an inkling if there is a bully among his friends and if your child is in danger of being bullied. Also watch out for sudden change in mood, behaviour, socializing pattern. Is your child avoiding company? Does your child check online updates all the time and look morose after every check? Has he become a recluse? Are his grades falling? If any of these happen then it’s time to take the child aside and gently try to prise out the cause. It might be a simple squabble and then again, it might be something more serious.

  1. Talk to them about cyberbullying from early on

Don’t wait for the kid to turn into a teen to talk about cyberbullying. Incorporate the topic in your regular family discussions right from his kindergarten years. Talk about healthy relationships and how an exchange of acrimonious words can turn any relationship bitter. Share your own or friend’s bullying experiences and discuss what could have prevented them.

  1. Help your kids develop strong sense of self-esteem

A child who is loved, cared for and brought up to have a positive approach will rarely bully others. Praise the strengths of your child and encourage him to be fair, courageous and strong. Help him be a natural leader by encouraging him to teach a friend or sibling a subject or a sport. Never taunt your child for looks and grades.

  1. Help teens understand that rifts happen, that’s life!, with personal examples

If you find that your child is bullying or being bullied, don’t immediately lose your cool. Be rational, be controlled. Find out the cause. Discuss how and why misunderstandings occur. Help the child get over hurt and encourage him not to take the fight online. Praise him for any restraint shown. Show the child how to block people who misbehave with him and befriend only those who are genuinely his friends.

  1. Teach them the mantra “Think before you click”

Children can get carried away by peer pressure and personal feelings and participate in bullying. So teach your child to think ahead. Ask him to consider if his comments might hurt the receiver. Tell him to check with you if unsure. Also to report to you if a friend is getting bullied online.

  1. Support your bullied child and involve school, if necessary

Once the child has confided in you about being bullied, become his champion. You will help him be strong by first being strong enough for both of you. Identify the online bullies, take print-outs of all conversations, block them and report them as abusers to the social networking site. Help your child decide whether he wants to close the account and open another under a new name. If school friends are involved, then organize a meeting between concerned parents and school authorities.

  1. Have security software installed on all Internet-enabled device

The need for advanced security software like McAfee Total Protection and McAfee Mobile Security can’t be emphasised enough. If you set up parental controls, you will be able to monitor your kids on all the devices simultaneously. You will be informed if strangers approach your child online or if inappropriate content or language is exchanged. You will also be able to regulate internet use and website access. Get one today, if you already don’t have them installed.

So what do you tell your child when he starts socialising online? “STOP, THINK, CONNECT!”