Everyone is on Facebook these days. You can keep in contact with old friends or make new ones. Distance is not a problem and even the Holy Father is just one click away. So you shouldn’t be surprised if your child is drooling to get a step closer to One Direction by joining one of these networks.
Even though Facebook’s policy is not to allow children under the age of 13, this is rarely enforced since it is much more difficult than it seems to implement age restrictions online. The truth is that 40% of all kids have an active Facebook account.
Even more shocking is the fact that in 1/3 of the cases, the parents, not only knew that their children joined Facebook (before the permitted age) but they actually helped their kids setup the Facebook account!
The age restrictions where not imposed to make our kids miserable by keeping them away from Justin Bieber (even though that would be a very legitimate excuse), but rather to protect them.I would like to use the analogy of a knife to help you understand social networking usage. When our kids are still tiny, we tend to keep them away from knives. When they become toddlers, we give them plastic knives which are pretty much harmless (and useless) but which make them feel independent whilst teaching them about the use of real ones. When they are old enough to have developed a good sense of control and judgment, we start giving them real knives while the family is eating even though guardians still intervene when they need to cut a piece of meat.
Finally, when they grow old enough, we let them eat on their own in their own time. Similarly, when kids are still tiny, they should not be allowed on a social networking site. I’m hearing some of say that I’m stating the obvious but research showed that 4% of those under aged kids who use social networking sites are 6 years old (or younger). When they become slightly older, we should expose them to some form of social networking sites for kids such as ScuttlePad. In these sites, guardians can create a profile for their children. All the content is manually moderated and the guardian can monitor the activity of his child. Exposing children to such social networks is good because you will be preparing them for the real thing later on in the future whilst also making them feel more independent. When they are old enough to have developed a good sense of control and judgment, you should help them make the transition towards a real social network. First of all, if you’d like to guide someone, you have to become proficient in that task. Thus I suggest that guardians explore social networking sites and understand how they work.
Secondly, it is a good idea to stay close to your kids when they’re using the site and start releasing your control slowly. Obviously the time required really depends on the maturity of your child. However, a trusting relationship should be built between the guardian and the child whereby a child knows that he can always refer back to an adult if he’s facing a difficult situation. Keep in mind that inappropriate content is widespread online and very easy to get access to it. So when facing such content, rather than scolding the child, it would be better to explain to him why that content is inappropriate and why he should chose to avoid it. Finally, when they grow old enough, we should let them explore and interact on their own whilst trusting their better judgment. Keep in mind that 2/3 of children in Malta between the age of 7 and 12 have a mobile phone.
Government is also rolling out tablets in the coming years. If we don’t prepare them but opt for a hostile approach by banning these sites, we would be spelling trouble. Remember that whilst we’re sleeping, they can always switch on their mobile phone or tablet from the comfort of their bed and accessing these sites without our knowledge. Which option do you prefer?Vodafone has made Digital Parenting easier by putting together all their resources in an easily accessible website and Facebook page. Visit https://www.facebook.com/ibrowsesafely.com.mt for practical information and advice about how to take informed decisions and protect the delicate balance of online safety and mobile freedom. The ibrowsesafely campaign is brought to you by Vodafone Malta in support of BeSmartOnline. http://www.besmartonline.org.mt References
Prof Alexiei Dingli is an Associate Professor of Artificial Intelligence within the Faculty of ICT at the University of Malta. He was also a founder member of the ACM student chapter in Malta, the Web Science Research group, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Malta and of the Gaming group at the same University. He also heads the Gaming in Education group and represents the University of Malta on the BeSmartOnline initiative. He pursued his Ph.D. on the future of the Internet at the University of Sheffield in the UK under the supervision of Professor Yorick Wilks. His work was rated World Class by a panel of international experts whose chair was Professor James Handler (one of the creators of the Semantic Web) and was used as a core component of the application that won the first Semantic Web challenge (2003). His research in Mobile Technology and Smart Cities (2011) was also awarded a first price by the European Space Agency and an e-Excellence Gold Seal at the presigeous CeBit Conference in Germany . He has published several posters, papers, book chapters and a book in the area. He also pursued an MBA with the Grenoble Business School in France specialising on Technology Management.