On Trust and Children in Social Networks

So I’m at my 12 year old daughter’s softball game last Friday night and as the game is concluding I reach for my cellphone and I see a text from my wife it reads:

Your daughter is on Facebook”?

I text back

She better not be”.

As I’m waiting for her to emerge from the dugout, I decide to call my wife who is in Ohio for the weekend for my nephew’s first communion. The first words out of her mouth are that her sister Terry tried to “Friend” my daughter on Facebook. I was shocked and stunned. But there were some legit reasons why. Here’s 4 of them.

1) Not 2 weeks prior to this happening, I was on television and in front of a live audience, as well as members of the school board, explaining why I did not see the point in children (freshman to sophomores on down) using Facebook, let alone a social network at all. They’re too young.

2) I had explained to those that attended, how important it was to monitor your childrens online activities.

3) I had outlined how important it was, to explain the implications of privacy and what can happen when you are “out” there to your children.

4) My daughter saw the event on television

Apparently I suck at drinking my own koolaid. I did not do a good enough job of monitoring my child’s online activities. I took for granted that my straight A’s student, great athlete, daughter would never violate the trust that I thought we had. She had asked previously if she could get a Facebook account and I said no and I explained why.

Here’s the cautionary tale.

  • First off, I felt completely betrayed by my daughter,
  • Facebook has no idea of the challenges that parents face.
  • Even “good” kids will do what their ‘friends” tell them to do and what their parents tell them not to.
  • My daughter knew she wasn’t supposed to be on, but her friends told her to set up an account.
  • As smart as my daughter thinks she is, and yes she is,  she still set the account up wrong, but luckily she had not put “that much” info out there.
  • There were dozens of other “friends” waiting for her to “friend” them back. Dozens.
  • Those other “friends”, were no older than 13, but the majority were younger than 13. That means that they worked around the so-called age limit to join Facebook.
  • Children have no clue what privacy settings are and how to set them up on Facebook.

So what’s my point? I supposedly was monitoring my daughter’s online activities. I live, eat, breath and sleep this social media stuff, and yet she did it while my wife and I were down the street trying to hit tennis balls.

The parents of the others that I saw on there? Chances are, they do not live, eat and breathe social media. I bet if I were to at least look at the privacy settings of those accounts, 90% of them would be wide open. That’s a problem. One of many.

As social networks and mobile phones continue to evolve, and as the age of innocence continues to evaporate, and entry into owning a phone continues to be lowered-issues about content, behavior, ignorance, and privacy on social networks are going to continue to escalate and magnify. Take it from me, or maybe not…

17 thoughts on “On Trust and Children in Social Networks

  1. Ouch. The good news is that you’re finding out early the limits of trust — and that your daughter’s going to be a handful.

    My nephew (now 14) is on Facebook, and I just hope his parents are paying attention (though he has friended them–and me). It’s okay, but I certainly keep an eye on his activity.

    I agree with you about keeping the ‘tweeners and young teens off of social networks. At that age, you think you’re far savvier and more sophisticated than you could possibly be (and that you’re likely to be even when you’re 10 years older). And that’s a recipe for disaster.

    Good luck sorting this out. I’m betting as frustrated as you and your wife are — you’re daughter’s really unhappy about now.

  2. Marc, I’m glad you’re ahead of me on this.

    In this case, maybe the better course of action is to set up her page for her, lock it down like you know it should be, and give her the keys later.

    I set up an email account for my daughter, but did it on my terms: http://ike4.me/sefk

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  4. @Ike, so here’s what I did. Similar to what you said, I reset all the privacy controls and changed the password. So yes, technically she is “on” Facebook but as you said, she’ll get the keys later.

  5. Marc,

    I ran into this when I got a call from the assistant principal at my son’s school. Same deal, sweet kid, quiet, A student, not a minute’s trouble. Five years ago – before Facebook – he was a 14 year old freshman in high school. I thought he was commenting on Star Wars blogs and learned he was also posting on Xanga. I went to check it out and despite all my hunting, tech savvyness and knowing his email address I only found an account that had been shut down the previous day.

    The next day I was in the principal’s office about a post he wrote that they supposedly found in a random check online. I was both shocked that my son had written something that would cause this reaction and disconcerted that the school lied about how they got the information and believed they had the right to litigate online behavior that occurred off premises – but schools and social media policies are fuel for another story.

    From this experience I outlawed blogging or any posting until he was a senior. He is now a college freshman and everything I have learned about online privacy I have learned from figuring out how he hides so much from me.

    Recently I spoke at a conference for Teens and Influencers to parents, teachers and others about keeping kids safe online. We all think we are on top of it, but it is so easy for a kid to make a separate gmail email account and set up a profile that it would be tough for most parents to catch. Kids think we are being overprotective and feel like its better to ask forgiveness than permission. My son actually convinced me to let his younger brother onto Facebook at 14 and I reluctantly agreed, teaching him about privacy and insisting he friend me. One person who works for me insists she have her daughter’s password so she can get into the page.

    These things help, but nothing is perfect. At 14, I am certainly not watching every minute my kids are on the computer – and homework is all online in high school, its hard to tell what they are doing. It seems like its just one more in the list of things we now need to teach our kids.

    Just wait till you watch her drive away in a car the first time, its equally terrifying.

  6. I believe the computer/online activities done by children leads them explore many things. Though parents try to control certain things from children, their tendency to stick to what they want always stimulates to work on their decisions! Yet they are not decision makers! Hence it is certainly parents responsibility to divert them to other useful sources round them!

  7. “Our children didn’t loose their innocence we’ve allowed them to give it away.”

    The world we live in today is way more scary than any “nightmare on elm street” movie and most parents are struggling to help their children hold on to their youth and innocence as long as we can. Childhood obesity? blame it on TV and fast food..don’t blame the parents who allow it. Cyber bullies? blame it on the internet and schools..don’t blame the parents who advocate “winning is everything” “give them anything b/c they don’t want to spend time with them”. We live in a society that promotes sexual behavior on every television show, commercials and what the kids wear.

    I have teens…in high school *sigh* they both have facebook pages! At 15 and 17 years of age they both gave me complete access to their accounts. I sat with them and set them up, I log on and pretend I am them…no interaction just lurking. They know that I do that. The day they are not okay with it…that’s the day I pull the plug. (((literally))) I’ve learned a lot about their “friends” not so sure I agree with that term, but I see some really sad “status” updates. Not sad like boohoo, sad like “this child needs guidance”…I use those topics in our dinner time table talks.

    So while I agree with you 100% and more (i’ve seen fb profiles for kids in elementary school request friends of my kids and I won’t allow it) in our home we do monitor what is done online as much as I know how too. I’m not so naive as to think they the have not done underhanded things, but so far they have honored all requests.

    So would you call me blind b/c I allow this? Because I know that I am sitting on the fence on this issue. Although trying to be conservative. Typically I don’t have an issue with standing firm on a subject. The more I write the more I sound like a hypocrite and sound like one of “those” parents.

    and by the way…can you explain to me how some of these news stories about the cyber bullying cannot be traced back to any one person. How does a FB account get set up without a valid email address?

    Well Marc thanks for allowing me to unload today….this is a great subject line and deserves to be seen by many parents…I should post it on my facebook 🙂

    oh…i also forgot to mention the my kids on facebook also have several older siblings and their spouses spot monitoring all activity too. 32 year old daughter has more than on one occasion called some kids on the carpet for things they’ve written on my kids’ walls. I feel like one of those paintings that has real eyes watching from behind the wall.

  8. I have to agree with Cindi’s tactics a little more. The fact of the matter is kids will be kids and they are going to be on Facebook if they want to be. We live in a new information age centered around everything social and its not just in the business sphere.

    Honestly, I find it interesting that someone who is constantly surrounded and working in the social business realm does not pass on their knowledge to their children. I understand there are a handful of things to be worried about when it comes to a social network. However, if you do not educate your children about these social networks and the advantages and proper ways to use them then they are going to do it most likely the wrong way (whether you allow it or not).

    Allowing kids to be on such sites (in a controlled and educated way) can also be a huge benefit for them when they do enter into the business world. I know it is hard to believe that your 12 year old kid in a matter of six years will be well on her way to adulthood. The fact of the matter is social media, as you know, is not going away and is quickly becoming one of the most common ways of communication across all boards.

  9. @Annie Ironically, I do pass on info about social media. Not that that deadens the blow any, but the fact is, that she was or is on social networks that are more tailored to her demo; and with her brother they together maintain a blog that I help them out with that gets mad traffic. I think the issue has to do as much with being emotionally prepared for social “networking” as it does with me trying to put off the inevitable. As it stands, I did not “delete” the account, I merely changed the password and we’ll revisit it as soon as I see a better level of understanding from her on the ramifications of being “out there” on the interwbez and what that actually means…:)

  10. @Cindi They will do what they do and they will bend and capitulate to pressure no matter what we have told them. What is missing is for them to see from us what actually happens “out there”. I’m actually building a deck of use cases in which I essentially am going to document every Facebook misstep. Including photos and status updates. This is also going to include quotes and links to every link about the breach in privacy and trust occurring on FB every day. Maybe that will have some sort of impact.

  11. Thanks for the reply. I am sorry I made the assumption otherwise. I find this comment helps me better understand the real issue about waiting for when she is ready for Facebook much better. Thank you for the further details. Good luck figuring it all out! 🙂

  12. Another thing that is an issue with Facebook and any other social sites is that we (society) no longer has any control over what others will put on their sites. For instance if I make sure my child has no mention of city, state, school affiliation, age, birth date, pictures with identifying objects or landmarks within them…that doesn’t stop little Sally down the street from posting party pics with my daughter in the picture and then tagging it…which you then have to request be removed. But I’m glad FB will alert you to that. I even removed all reference of my children on FB so they can’t be link back to me. It’s a daily workout and it still falls short of safe.

    I have issues with the whole thing, but I still allow and monitor.

    I look forward to your future posts on this subject including the privacy breaches.

  13. @Ari, Irony? That piece doesn’t begin to talk about the implications or the “what might happen”? My daughter is 12. This person is talking about High School Freshman. I’m talking about Trust- That piece doesn’t come close to talking about it. Lastly Facebook vs. Twitter? Apples vs. Oranges.

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