Parenting in the age of Facebook

Kids are equipped with smart phones, tablets, computers and social media. Is it our parental obligation to monitor their every online move?

Kristy Woudstra 0

Photo: VisualKeys/iStockphoto

Not that long ago, a friend told me a “funny-cause-it-wasn’t-me story” about a teenage boy who shall not be named. This nameless teenager had created a profile (using his dad’s name) on a swingers’ website and was messaging back and forth with other members.

In the age of the Interweb, parenting includes whole new technologically fueled communication conundrums. My parents only had to worry about my boy crazy diary entries, tying up the phone for hours, watching one of our three channels for too long, some gaming on our Commodore 64 and playing truth or dare at sleepovers. Skip forward a generation and we’re contending with smart phones, powerful computers, tablets and social media.

With these devices and sites, pre-teens and teens can now broadcast their thoughts, theories and angst to the whole world. Remember Lonelygirl15? That may have been a hoax that millions fell for, but it was just the beginning of real kids going viral.

Of course, this presents a huge business opportunity. Gone are the days of merely blocking your kids from visiting porn sites or monitoring their Internet history. (That’s so early 2000s.) Now you can buy software and download apps that monitor your kids’ every tweet, track time spent online, watch their video channel and translate their abbreviations on Facebook.

In a recent New York Times article, an expert identifies exactly what I’m worried about: “It’s too easy to get involved in surveillance. That undermines our influence as parents. Kids interpret that as a lack of trust.”

Parents are in unchartered territory. Sure we have the capability to monitor our kids, but what do we do with this information? Some parents are retaliating, using the very same tools that their children are using. One dad recently took a gun and shot his daughter’s laptop in response to her rant on Facebook about having to do household chores. He made a Youtube video of her laptop’s demise and then posted it on her Facebook page for all her friends to see. Is public humiliation the new form of parenting?

And considering kids aged eight to 18 spend seven and a half hours on electronic devices every day, how are we supposed to keep up?

My daughter is only six, but I’m not sure I’ll want to know her every tweet, post and who-knows-what-else. I would have been mortified if my parents had listened in on my phone conversations. Nor do I want to be the parent who denies all technology for fear of what might happen.

For now, I will continue our face-to-face open-lines of communication and hope I find a happy medium along the way.

How do you monitor your child’s online activity?

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