I was in my Philadelphia hotel room when the newsflash appeared on the television screen: “13-year-old Philadelphia-area girl is missing,” and the authorities were pleading for anyone to come forward with information on her whereabouts. The story was updated the very next night when the local news station reported that the girl was found in a Washington D.C. bus station in the company of a 20-year-old male whom she met online on Facebook.
Over the next few days I saw various interviews with the girl’s parents as they demanded justice for the male predator who was responsible for convincing her to leave her home with him. The authorities apprehended him without incident and charged the young man with “corruption of a minor.” Perhaps her parents should be arrested with him on the same charge. How was it that the 13-year-old girl was able to meet him on Facebook without her parents knowing about it? They were obviously not monitoring her activity and allowed her to interact on the social media site freely.
That's where monitoring tools come in to play to help today's parents. I encourage parents to refrain from providing a Facebook page to their children or young teens, but if they feel like they have to provide them with one, at the very least, consider subscribing to an online monitoring service that can track all of your child's activity. One particular service, and my favorite, is CreepSquash. It provides the most comprehensive monitoring solution so that you can have peace of mind anytime your kids are on Facebook. Their innovative technology works from anywhere your child accesses the site, and answers the call to help parents become aware so they can take action before it's too late, unlike the case of the young girl from Pennsylvania in my opening paragraph.
If you’re a parent, you may have a child or teen who has been “chipping away” at your boundaries to convince you to allow her to have a Facebook page. Because she continues to make the case that all of her friends have a page and she wants to fit in, you may have given in or are heading in that direction. Here are 10 reasons to consider keeping to your NO.
1. Images and words put out on the Internet don’t go away and can have long lasting impacts on a person’s future reputation. According to the organization ChildrenOnline.org, 16-year-olds have a higher level of maturity that allows them to be less impulsive and to understand that their actions have dramatic and devastating consequences on their lives and the lives of others.
2. Predators are lurking on social media sites and prey on unsuspecting and gullible children and teens. Anyone can create a false profile that makes them appear to be someone they aren’t.
3. Creating an email address for a child or teen and giving them the password provides them with the power to create multiple profiles/identities on Facebook and other social media sites. Many children have a Facebook page their parents know about and others they don’t.
4. Your children will be exposed to a greater level of influence from peers with little or no supervision, resulting in your child learning about topics or subject matters you would normally not want them to be exposed to.
5. Parents who start out with good intentions to monitor their children’s activity on Facebook initially see that their child is behaving appropriately. Then as time passes, the parent usually monitors less and less, while the child becomes more curious and experimental. Before too long, the parent is not monitoring and the child may be communicating or behaving inappropriately due to the influence of peer pressure.
6. Focusing on what friends are doing can easily turn into an addiction that could take precedence over homework, chores, reading, writing, or other creative activities. Ask yourself, “What child would pick working on a challenging homework assignment when he gets home, rather than logging on and checking Facebook?”
7. According to ChildrenOnline.org, “Thousands of scams are perpetrated daily on popular social networks. Though teens and children may be savvy and knowledgeable about using technology, it doesn't mean that they are experienced and savvy enough to recognize a scam or when they are being manipulated to click a link leading to malware. Generally, older teens are more knowledgeable about computer threats and risks and are, therefore, more likely to be cautious.”
8. Adults, teens and children are constantly posting inappropriate or adult-natured information or links on Facebook. Children and young teens exposed to inappropriate information are not ready to deal with it and can experience long-lasting negative effects to their self-image and their view of the world around them. They suddenly appear to be maturing faster than they should be.
9. For many of us adults, the reach of bullying usually ended in the late afternoon when we arrived home from school. But thanks to social media sites like Facebook, our children could now be subjected to bullying 24 hours a day.
10. Children and young teens don’t understand the importance of protecting private information online. In a survey completed by ChildrenOnline.org, 40.2% of all children surveyed admitted to sharing their password with a friend. Releasing private information online that reveals any clues to the identity of a child could result in threats to her safety and well being.
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Luckily, the girl from a small town in Pennsylvania who I wrote about at the beginning of this article was found unharmed, but do a Google search on children and Facebook and you will find numerous articles about children who were abducted by predators and who were not as fortunate.
Parents own the responsibility to keep their children safe and a child’s safety trumps any other reason for wanting to give a child a Facebook account. Think twice before giving in to your child’s pressure to open an account for them until they are old enough to make smart decisions on their own.
CreepSquash's web-based application scans Facebook activities, analyzes the data and sends automatic e-mail alerts when there is a potential threat or suspicious activity that parents should be aware of. Don't become the parent standing in front of the new camera's, pleading for the safe return of your child or teen. Protect your child by staying on top of all his or her activity with Facebook before something bad happens.