The world has been witnessing an online social media boom since the last few years. In less than a decade’s time, these easy-to-collaborate tools have changed the way in which people connect with each other. The immense power of the social networking tools is definitely something that needs to be appreciated but this also raise the question of whether every user is an intended user of such websites.
All of us know that social sites like Facebook and Twitter are NOT meant for kids under the age of 13. However, the number of kids secretly using (or with their dumb parents’ consent) SocNets is growing at an alarming pace. Do we have systems, tools and regulations to prevent this?
Minor kids using computers is not a crime nor something that should be stopped. However, there are some potential threats here that every parent should be aware of.
1. Access to rated material illegal content
Since private friend networks cannot be readily monitored by an outsider, it is so easy for kids to get access to illegal content and media links via their personal networks. These things cannot be prevented easily by even the state of the art parental control systems. Having said that, the problem existed earlier as well (due to forums, chat rooms etc) but it is getting more and more difficult to tackle now.
2. Online bullying
Clueless kids can be easily exposed to online bullying and cyber stalking as kids generally have the tendency to group up and attack a hapless opponent. In the online scenario, this usually happens without their parents or custodians knowing about these incidents and it can have long lasting negative impacts on kids. Several non-profit organizations have come up with online bullying grievance sites but not as an organized effort yet.
3. Getting hooked up with strangers
Since online identities can never be proven, kids can get connected to strangers who may not be from the same age groups as kids. Teenage girls getting connected to befriending adult men in their 40s and 50s is a possibility (and has actually happened as reported by the press many times) and you can imagine the impact of the same.
4. Impact on the child’s brain
Recent studies have shown that the most common use of computers by kids is for gaming purpose and this has a very bad impact on the brain of a child. Fast paced TV shows and games are the primary culprits that causes kids to lose attention in other activities including face to face communication.
5. Lack of focus on studies
Continuing from the last point, excessive usage of computers can cause kids to lose out on their school activities and studies. It is possible that we may only have e-schools in the future. However, humans are supposed to be social animals (not online) and I strongly believe that face to face communication is a must to make the best use of our five senses. Basically the human-touch (literally as well) is required in everything that you experience in life. Some parents think it’s a cool thing for their kids to be able to use computers for a lot of things. But how many of those cool things add the kids brain development, intellectual growth and emotional maturity?
6. Ruined face to face relationship
Fast online relationships and ever-growing friends list would mean that you tend to care less about your family people. Many kids of this generation don’t even look straight into their parents’ eyes. I have seen many kids just coming back from school with a droopy head, dumping the school bag and directly going to the computer to be with their online friends. It is a big social issue and it wasn’t the case with other online collaboration channels such as chat rooms. It’s something that is resulted out of the recent social network and gaming boom.
7. Less talk and more typing in
A continuation of 6: Kids of this generation tends to talk less and type (or mobile text) more. This has affected their oral communication skills, writing skills and usage of hand in general. The modern kid gets their hand control and coordination very late compared to the last generation.
8. Naive online behaviour
Most minor kids are not aware of the potential hazards of getting the computer exposed to strangers (people as well as applications). It is so easy for your family computer getting hacked when kids use it more. Also when kids keep creating a lot of accounts for online gaming, social networking purpose etc, it can result in an increased level of spam in their email boxes and many of them don’t know how to tackle it.
How can we fix the issues?
It’s about time we had systems, regulations and intervention from parents, families and organizations to prevent our kids from getting spoiled online. The following are some of the remedies that I can think of:
Parents need to educate to kids
Just like the sex education, kids need to be told about the existence of social networking sites, adult sites etc and when they are supposed to access them. Kids may be interested in using them to play social games like Farmville etc but they should be strictly kept away from them until the age requirement is met. Moreover, the kids need to be taught to befriend only those people that he/she know in their real lives.
Parents need to monitor kids
It is very very important for you as a parent to monitor what kids do online. This is not just the case with what they do at home, but they should be monitored even from their friends’ places etc via good parent networking.
It may be even a good idea that one of the parents (or both) is in the kid’s friend list to help them get involved in the kid’s activities. The parents should be more like friends to kids.
Parental control systems
Most of the parental control systems that are available in the market today do not really control site access by proper child filters. For example, there is usually a blanket filter on social network sites but this doesn’t quite do the job. If they are kids friendly socnets, these systems should automatically identify them and allow.
Fixed computer time
Every child, even if he has his own computer, needs to be told that he has a fixed amount of computer time (even TV time for that) available per day and the parents should strictly enforce that rule. This kind of time table can help them use their computers for more productive purposes if this schedule is properly defined (e.g. time to check mails, using online tutorials etc)
Kids SocNet sites
It’s about time we had several kids social networking sites on the web. I am yet to see a proper kids socnet site as all that we get to see off late is some game sites or forums mostly run by TV channels, toy shop chains etc. Instead of junk forums, we need to have really good social networking sites for kids whereby kids under 13 can access relevant contents and collaborate there. Even if dedicated kids socnets are available, the parents still need to monitor their kids.
Kids grievance cells and sites
Several countries and organizations have already set up online bullying grievance cells for kids. There needs to be more effort along this lines and kids should be made aware of the availability of such services. However, at the end the parents, teachers and friends have more responsibility than anyone else to help kids to cope with any difficulties that they might have faced while socializing online.
Over to you
Have you got a kid below 13 years in your family who gets to use social network sites such as facebook?
If so, did you ever know that they shouldn’t be using it? Have you ever monitored what they have been doing online?
Happy (and safe) social life!
PS:- I was intending to post this on my personal blog but considering the social media aspect, it ended up here.
[Image courtesy: PhotoBucket]