Online sites such as Facebook and Myspace are well known to the young adult/adult generation. It is a place for mingling, chatting, catching up with old friends, making new friends, and even potentially meeting future partners. And with these positive aspects that these online communities hold for the young adult/adult generation, there are negative aspects that can follow. Situations such as stalking, harassment, vulgar language and bullying can occur on these sites, and while it might be difficult to handle these situations as adults, imagine how hard it would be for a child. That’s right, children as young as elementary aged are now becoming part of the online community that can potentially create dangerous situations, and parents and guardians should take caution when allowing their children in taking part in these communities.
I first took notice to young children becoming a part of online communities after completing an internship at a local elementary school. During that semester, the students and I formed a student teacher bond and eventually one of the students in class (this was a third grade class) asked me whether or not I had a Facebook. I replied that I did, and I was shocked when she asked me if we could be friends on Facebook. Since that would have been unprofessional, I had to explain to her that we could not, but the thought of a young child the age of eight being a part of a community such as Facebook didn’t sit well with me. I wondered whether or not this child had supervision while taking part in this site. Whether or not she would accept any friend request that was sent to her, even if she did know the person, and how many other young children have accounts on these sites as well, where their pictures are clearly visible for anyone to see whether or not they are “friends” with that person on Facebook or not.
I know firsthand that there are some disturbed individuals out there who will send messages to other people on an online community with offensive language that lead me to believe they were looking for intercourse. Of course I know better than to respond to these individuals, but for a young child receiving a message with offensive language that they may not even fully understand can be confusing. What if this child was to give away information while chatting with someone on these online communities that could be dangerous to their wellbeing. Having an adult ask a child where they go to school may seem relatively normal, if that child is with their parents and the person questioning them about their school is a family friend or family member. But if this person happens to be a stranger, then this information is vital to keep private. And all it takes is for a parent or guardian to think that because there are restrictions on Facebook that their child is safe and no harm can come to them, then they turn their back for a second and you never know what can happen.
This probably sounds as though it has a one and a million chance of ever occurring, and those parents who allow their children a Facebook account may be rolling their eyes saying, “what does she know she doesn’t even have any kids”. Yes that is true, I am not a parent, but I am aware of the dangers the internet can have on young children. Even my younger brother in middle school does not have a Facebook account, and those students who do have an account in his grade are using extremely inappropriate language for not only their age but any age. The words I see them type are words that I wasn’t even aware of when I was at that age of my life, and if they are speaking like that on the internet then I have to wonder what other actions they are taking part in over the internet on these online communities.
Now, I know that Facebook can be wonderful for anyone who wants to keep in touch with family members across the nation or overseas. And if a young child has account that is continually being monitored by parents at all times no matter when they are online, then there are really no dangers involved. It’s when parents become too safe with the online community and give the child freedom to do as they please that things can go wrong.
I am not trying bash anyone’s skills as a parent, because I have no doubt that the love they feel for their children is infinite and they always consider their children’s safety. I am just trying to bring to light the dangers that are out there online for young children with these online communities. And as my parents have always told me growing up when it came to online sites that they monitored, “it is better to be safe than sorry.”