Befriending My Mum on Facebook

Last month, an 18 year old teenager was murdered after making contact with a stranger. The blame was flying all over the place with some blaming Facebook’s privacy, the parents and others blaming the Government for lack of education and control over the cyberspace.

What became slightly absurd to me was when the news broke, news stations were having “internet safety experts” to provide comments, which consisted of mainly over-worried mothers, and in a few cases, the police. Advices provided include:

  • - befriending your child(ren) on social networking sites
  • - removing all photos, school details and date of birthday
  • - having conversations with your child(ren) about their online activities
  • - internet filtering
  • I agree with all the above just not quite the part on befriending my mum on Facebook and the internet filtering. Honestly, I don’t know how many teenagers would actually befriend their mothers on Facebook – I know, back when I was a teenager, I definitely wouldn’t. Now, there is a whole conversation going on about cyber-safety, and what anger me the most is the internet filtering.

    My point of view is that cyber safety is not too far different than “real-life” safety. In the same way that you do not disclose personal information and engage yourself in unknown and unfamiliar relationships, put yourself in vulnerable situations or put yourself to places you don’t want to be in real life, its exactly the same online!

    On the whole idea on privacy, there is no such thing as privacy online if you choose to put your information online. If you want your address and mobile number to be private, keep it to yourself – don’t post it anywhere online, nor share it with your family and friends “offline”. I think that is fundamentally what online safety should be about – we need to understand that the “real world” and the “digital world” in our current age is not a clear cut line anymore. The younger generations have both their lives online and offline converging more and more, so the conversation isn’t so much just about cyber-safety but “real-life” safety as well.

    We need to rethink how we engage our children and youth online – the media that they’re using and how we could potentially support them in using these digital media in appropriate ways. Having conversations with children about their online activities isn’t the worse idea, except not quite what most people think. I am talking about having your children tell you about online safety. In yesterday’s Pew Internet & American Life Project report, “Reputation Management and Social Media“, young people actually have a better idea on cyber-safety than most adults.

  • 44% of young adult Internet users say they take steps to limit the amount of information available about them, compared to 33% of users ages 30 to 49 and 25% of those ages 50 to 64.
  • 71% of younger social networking site users actively change their privacy settings to limit what they share with others online, compared to 55% of those 50 to 64.
  • 41% have removed their names from photos of them posted by others, compared to just 18% of those 50 to 64.
  • Having your kids show you the rope around the internet gives you a better view of their online activities and their digital and cyber literacy more than you can get if you ask them directly.

    Teenagers turn to the internet as a respite from their everyday life. Internet also gives them the connections they don’t otherwise get access to in real life – this includes connection with peers and like-minded people. Whether this is for friendships or social action, Internet is a huge part of many teenagers’ life. It’s grown from a tool for young people to become a setting for connections, activities and education. In my limited experience as a middle school teacher, students with a healthy “offline” involvement such as volunteering, sports and family events are less likely to be digital natives and spend a lot less time online.

    My suggestions to parents with adolescents and teenagers would be:

  • - befriending your child(ren) at an age when they’re still “hip and cool” might not be the best idea
  • - have an open conversation with your children about online safety, don’t tell them what to do
  • - explain to them about online vs “offline” safety and what means to them and the family
  • - have their computer in the lounge room or somewhere you can keep an eye on
  • - do not stalk your child(ren) – that’s definitely uncool. Keeping an eye out is OK. Stalking is creepy.
  • The Australian Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety is calling for submissions from individuals and organisations on privacy, online safety and abuse e.g. cyberbullying, inappropriate online behaviour, online environments young Australians are engaged in, etc.

    • Brisbaneboy

      Yeah… I'm not sure how much traction you are going to achieve recommending parents are friended after a certain age. I think younger children though this might not be a bad idea, where they might lack a degree of common sense and understanding that might be required. Perhaps this is a case where fathers friend sons and mothers friend daughters. They are going to know more about what it was like being a kid at that age then the other parent.

      Though I agree I wouldn't have done this when I was a teenager – not that facebook was really around then, or at least I didn't have one. And this wasn't all that long ago! Even if it is a father figure for a son, there may be issues the son is experiencing where they wont want a father figure 'looming'.

      Communication is the key you are absolutely right Ehon. Conversations are difficult, but that's what being a parent is about, and accepting the difficult situation and educating your child to have the smarts to manage the situation independently.

      What frustrates me is those that don't. It would seem to me that we live in a world where too many people won't go far enough… won't do what they know is right… what they believe. I don't know how or why it got this way but the world has become so complicated, to involve yourself in someone else's problems is to invite them needlessly on yourself.

      How did that happen?

    • ehon

      Good points, Brisbane Boy. You definitely bring up a few great suggestions and food for thoughts. I think we're moving towards a more chaotic world where parents are expecting their roles of educating and bringing up their children to other members of the community – caretaker, babysitter and especially the schools.

    • Brisbaneboy

      You know they really are. And this is an obscene situation in my mind. There is a charter that some indigenous communities have developed which states:

      Indigenous Australian culture is a culture of responsibility and reciprocity. ours is a culture of law and learning. Ours is a culture of transmission of knowledge. Our culture is our strength.

      We will take our responsibilities to our children. We will not allow other people to use the face that our children are indigenous as an excuse for educational failure.

      We will understand and be sensitive to the difficulties facing our children and we are going to find every support to deal with them, but we will not allow these difficulties to be an excuse for failure.

      It will not be an excuse for the children.

      It will not be an excuse for the parents or community.

      It will not be an excuse for the principal and the teachers.

      It will not be an excuse for the education system and all of us who say we are committed to Indigenous reform.

      Now that statement focuses on education. However, i see absolutely no reason why this shouldn't apply to every parents, in every aspect of their child's life, and the difficulties we face – such as the difficulties in educating your child about online and offline safety. Parents must be sensitive to the difficulties facing our children, and find every support to deal with them, but not allow them to be an excuse for failure.

      You fail your children, you fail society.

    • ehon

      Well said, Brisbaneboy! :)

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