Bullying is continuing at alarming rates. Why? The answers to this question have varied widely between researchers. Some people say it is the advancement of technologies such as social networks, ‘smart’ phones, and other such devices. Others say that it is related to our tough economic times. And yet others blame it on public personalities such as elected officials and stars. Personally, I find finger-pointing and blame a huge waste of time. Instead, let’s focus our efforts into searching for solutions through cooperation with each other.
Are children from ages 10 to 12 involved in social networks and chat rooms? Four or five years ago, I would have been surprised to see a child with a social network account. Today, I suspicion the number of participants on these internet sites might be far greater than any of us would have guessed. I decided to get some answers on my own by informally interviewing a sample group of students in a medium sized elementary school between the ages of 10 and 12. Their answers provided me a unique insight into the changing world of social networks and chat rooms which are often the vehicles for cyber-bullying.
I asked the students two major questions: (1.) How many of you are on Facebook or something similar? (2.) How many of you use a chat room other than Facebook?
Almost all of the 12 year olds that I interviewed had Facebook or My Space accounts. Half of these students were using chat rooms other than Facebook or My Space. I was quite surprised by the overwhelming numbers using social network sites.
I decided to ask the 12 year olds an additional question, “How many of you have your computer to access the internet in your bedroom without any adult supervision?” Approximately half of the students raised their hands. I noticed the smiles on a few of the student’s faces and wondered what was going through their minds at that moment.
I suddenly thought, “How did these kids get their own accounts?” I was pretty sure that Facebook has a minimum age requirement of 13. I chose not to ask this question because the open setting would have been inappropriate.
The responses of the 11 year old students with accounts on social networking sites were just as concerning. About half of the students had accounts and a few were using chat rooms.
I didn’t expect to see any 10 year olds with social network accounts, but I was wrong. Although the numbers were not large, there was clearly a small group of the young students already participating on the sites.
I thought, “At what age will this end?”
Although this is not a scientific study, it does raise a question in my mind, “What was the role of the family in these children having social network or chat room accounts?” For my purposes, I will just state, ‘Facebook has a minimum age requirement of 13.’ If we as parents know our children are on these accounts, then what message are we really communicating to them? “We must be the role models of what is right and not what is wrong!”
I am sure there are many children who use it appropriately, but if we truly believe the family is where we must begin with the prevention of bullying, we must open our eyes and see the entire picture. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities as parents! In this case, social networking should only come with the close supervision of the parent. Here are a few of my recommendations to parents on this topic:
1. Computers with internet access should not be placed in rooms without adult supervision. The screen should be visible to any adult passing by. Reminder: Look to the bottom of the screen to see which sites are currently opened.
2. Be suspicious of your child turning off the screen or closing the lap top as you come close. Go open it or turn on the screen. Check the bottom of the screen as well to see which additional sites are currently opened.
3. Learn the language of the social network such as ‘PSN’ – parent standing near.
4. Only you should set up accounts, passwords, user names, etc. No changes can be made unless you make them. Monitor the accounts frequently.
5. Review the rules for computer and internet usage. The use of the computer and internet is a privilege not a right. Explain your role in monitoring the usage. Set up consequences for inappropriate use and follow through if a violation occurs.
6. I strongly suggest all parents set up internet alerts concerning their children. This is a technique for parents to become aware of anyone talking about your child or teen. You can learn more by going to http://www.google.com/support/alerts/bin/static.py?page=guide.cs&guide=28413&topic=28416