Social Responsibility: Monitoring Children's Social Media Usage Is Important, but So Is Allowing Their Mistakes

Released: 7/11/2012 10:40 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: Kansas State University
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Newswise — MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Facebook has provided millions of people worldwide with an unmatched outlet for sharing information about their lives. Through the social network giant, establishing community with old friends and new has never been easier.

But Facebook also presents an assortment of issues -- especially for parents, according to a Kansas State University parenting expert.

Chuck Smith, professor of emeritus of family studies and human services at the university's College of Human Ecology, says increased usage of Facebook by children has sparked questions of how to prevent cyberbullying and protect their personal privacy. Simultaneously, some parents have been forced to consider how much information they should share about their children on Facebook.

But despite the risks, Smith says using Facebook is worthwhile for children if parents remain aware.

"Facebook is a tool that could be used for good or bad," Smith said. "It's up to parents to help their children understand how to use it well and be vigilant about misuse."

Online bullying is Smith's primary concern among young Facebook users. Preventing online bullying should involve parents retaining essential control of a child's Facebook account, he said. This allows parents to read all posts and ensure the highest levels of security settings are in place. Appropriate security settings are beneficial in a variety of contexts, including Smith's other primary concern with young Facebook users: online predators.

To counteract possible negative influences, Smith advises parents of children under 16 years old to have the family use the computer in a common area -- something that may not sit well with some children.

"The impact on relationships could be with children regarding parents as too intrusive in their personal lives," Smith said. "Though as long as the children are living in the home, parents have every right to be vigilant.

"For parents, vigilance changes with the child's age, but you still have to be responsible."

Parents should instruct their children on responsible sharing of information early, but parents also should allow a reasonable amount of freedom for children to make their own mistakes, Smith said. Failure to allow a meaningful amount of freedom could be detrimental to the parental-child relationship.

"The younger generation is very much an online generation," Smith said. "We have to be realistic and teach them about the danger and responsibility of posting online and considering what they might say and how they might react. Parents who are overly restrictive might lose their opportunity."

Standards of responsibility also exist for parental social media usage -- especially when it concerns their children. Smith advises parents consider their own security settings before sharing certain information about their children. The same principle applies for any sort of related information, including when the family will be on vacation.

"You have to be aware of who you have given permission to view the page," Smith said.


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