As Facebook quickly becomes the most widely used social networking site across the world, it is the job of parents to keep up with what is taking place on their children’s personal Facebook pages. However, studies show that most parents underestimate the level of risk taking behavior that their children are participating in while on Facebook and the internet. Recently, I clicked on the Facebook pages of two of my son’s friends. These were two young teenage girls whose pages were completely unprotected. Their personal information was available for any and all to see. These girls have put themselves in danger and it is likely that their parents are not aware of the risks and have not created an environment of openness, monitoring and boundaries for their children’s healthy and safe Facebook use.
Healthy and safe Facebook use is possible and children can benefit from the social engagement, education and learning, and entertainment opportunities. However, some of the risks children encounter during Facebook and internet use are cyber bullying, pop-ups that contain sexually explicit or violent material, social isolation which is linked to depression and loneliness, and sexual predators. A 2008 study indicated that the majority of parents are aware and concerned about these risks and do set rules for their children’s use of the internet. However, their children reported that they do not believe their parents are as involved in their Facebook and internet use as their parents report.
It is well-established that risk taking behavior in children and adolescents is directly linked to parental monitoring and communication. Children and adolescents whose parents monitor their behavior are involved in less delinquency, drug and alcohol use and sexual activity. It is essential that parents know where their children are going, who they are with and what they are doing. This same monitoring and supervision must be applied for healthy and safe Facebook and internet use. Parents should not assume that just because their children are in their home that they are safe while on Facebook and the internet.
Healthy and safe Facebook and internet use for children requires parents to become involved in their children’s cyber world. Parents need to begin talking to their children as early as possible about Facebook and internet use. Parents should explain all of the benefits and risks involved with Facebook and internet use. Parents need to have full access, including user ids and passwords, to all of their children’s online sites and should check those sites periodically for inappropriate activity. Parents should also make sure that their children personally know all their “friends” on any social networking site and ask questions about those friends. How do their children know them? Where did they meet them?
Some other tips for healthy and safe Facebook and internet use include placing the home computer in a high traffic or visible place in the home and restricting the internet use on cell phones. Parents should periodically sit with their children when they are on the computer, and check in on them at other times. Parental controls and filtering software should also be installed onto the home computers. Parents should also set time limits for Facebook and internet use, ask their children about their Facebook and internet activities and check the search history on their children’s computers.
Studies show that parents underestimate the likelihood that their children will engage in risky behavior on the internet such as giving out their phone number and address, visiting pornographic sites and agreeing to meet a stranger face-to-face. Further, those same studies reported that parents overestimate the amount of supervision and monitoring they actually provide for their children, although mothers do tend to monitor their children more than fathers. With this information parents need to diligently engage in open communication, supervision and monitoring of their children’s Facebook and internet use. Although adolescents and teens require some levels of independence and privacy, those freedoms need to be well balanced with healthy and safe Facebook and internet use.
Lee, S., & Chae, Y. (2007). Children’s internet use in a family context: Influence on family relationships and parental mediation. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10(5), 640-644. doi:10.1089/cpb.2007.9975.
Liau, A., Khoo, A., & Ang, P. (2008). Parental awareness and monitoring of adolescent Internet use. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, 27(4), 217-233. doi:10.1007/s12144-008-9038-6.
Livingstone, S., & Helsper, E. (2008). Parental Mediation of Children’s Internet Use. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 52(4), 581-599. doi:10.1080/08838150802437396.