Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Dealing with social media as a parent:

There are more than 900 million Facebook users worldwide, but many parents have an uneasy feeling when their children spend more and more time on Facebook, Google+ and other social networks.
Date: June 05 2012
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Many parents cannot figure out why youngsters would want to meet with people online instead of in real life, but social networks have become a part of everyday life for teenagers.

"They can no longer be banned from children's rooms," said Heinz Thiery, online consultant at the German federation for child guidance and family counselling, the bke.

And parents should accept that. "They cannot win this fight by prohibiting something," Thiery said. But at the same time, it's important that they deal with the issue, he said.

Tobias Arns of the German IT association Bitkom said that social networks are the most important form of internet usage for young people. More than 90 per cent of individuals between the ages of 14 and 29 use social media, especially social networks like Facebook.

"Social networks are so attractive because they unite so many functions," said Arns. "Users can look at pictures and watch films there. They get information and chat with their friends."

Eightytwo per cent of the 14 to 29 age group told the latest Bitkom survey that the most important issue for them was keeping up-to-date with friends. "That rating was higher than in any other age group," said Arns.

Social networks are totally normal for youngsters. "They organise their everyday life with them and use them as naturally as their parents use the telephone," said Arns.

"Parents have always had a vague uneasiness when they don't understand what their kids do," said Arns. And even more so when youngsters today use smartphones to access the internet. Often it's the fear that their children can drift into a dangerous virtual world.

Parents should know that there are risks - as always in life.

"That's why social networks are not recommended for youngsters under 12 years," said Thiery. Facebook has a minimum age requirement for membership of 13 years. "But youngsters can easily fake their birthdates," said Thiery. He suggested teenagers not use a real photo for their portfolio picture, or at least use one in which the teenager cannot easily be identified. "The more anonymous you are, the more protected you are" is the motto.

Users should also be cautious about sharing information about themselves. "If need be, they can name their city and school, but never where they live," warned Thiery. Safer and more secure would be to change one's name so that outsiders do not straight away have the chance to find out who the user is. But youngsters have become more cautious in that regard.

Many however still do not understand that they can run into problems regarding personal rights. The rights of others can be infringed upon for example if someone takes a picture of a girl with their smartphone and posts it in Facebook - something which is strictly prohibited without the consent of the individual pictured.

"Many youngsters believe that when they take a picture that it belongs to them and they can do with it as they wish," said Thiery.

"But the internet is not a legal vacuum."

Control is good, trust is better - the same goes regarding social networks. Getting your child's password and secretly logging onto Facebook in their name is not a good idea, according to Thiery. It's also problematic only allowing children to use Facebook if parents can regularly look at their social network usage. Mistrust provokes defensiveness and anyway, "it's just a question of time before youngsters know all the tricks to keep unwelcome visitors away from their page".

Do you agree that trust is key to dealing with kids use of social media?

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