What Needs to Happen
In order for Facebook to allow kids under the age of 13 on the site, there are several things that need to happen.
To begin with, Facebook must address the COPPA concerns. For those of you who haven't heard of COPPA, it's the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal regulation that requires prior verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information online from children under the age of 13. Facebook needs to obtain parental permission for kids under 13 to create a Facebook account.
It is essential that Facebook fully explores the preteen age range they're targeting and provides an age-appropriate experience for that age range. Not all existing Facebook features are appropriate for a preteen audience regardless of parental consent and oversight, and some may even vary depending on the age of the preteen. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think Facebook is more interested in capturing the 10-12 year old audience as that's the audience most interested in being where their friends are. And, I imagine at this point, Facebook has a pretty good idea of what that age group is now doing, albeit covertly, on their service. This information could be used to help protect them on a legitimate Facebook account.
Hand-in-hand with providing an age-appropriate experience, Facebook must provide parents with the means to monitor and supervise their children. For instance, Facebook could offer a predetermined, baseline experience for kids under 13 and provide parents with the tools to customize the experience making it either more restrictive or less restrictive based on a combination of factors including their children's age, maturity level, family norms as well as time parents are willing to commit to micromanaging the experience.
Facebook needs to embed a strong educational program into the experience focusing on both digital citizenship and online safety. Embedding education into the experience takes it beyond safety tips at the bottom of a page or a link to Facebook's safety site, but rather places teachable moments throughout the experience, especially at the point of interactivity when crucial decisions are being made.
Lastly, Facebook will have to make it easy for kids to report potential problems and, at the same time, should also employ technological solutions to proactively identify problems.
Assuming all the above needs are met, let's look at the benefits.
Facebook is ultimately offering a solution to the growing problem of underage users on their service, either there with or without their parent's consent. We've heard from Facebook that they remove 20,000 underage users daily from their service and these are only the ones they identify. These children are currently in an environment that offers them no protection for their age group – parental, technological, and/or educational. Creating an environment specifically for children will address these issues.
Connecting parents with preteen children on Facebook starts the parental involvement early on in the child's social media life-cycle. It brings the child into an environment that the typical parent of a preteen has used and has knowledge of, ultimately making the parent the expert if only for a brief time. This is a time when children are still willing to listen and learn from their parents, and less likely to push boundaries.
Relying on parents to oversee the social networking experience early on creates a platform for ongoing conversation. It provides valuable insight to the parent as to the child's expectations with respect to online social interactions. It builds an online collaboration between parent and child that can continue on as the child ages.
Gradual graduation to Facebook from the preteen to teens will make for more informed teens who are well aware of digital citizenship and online safety, including managing their reputation.
Additionally, some of the tools designed for the preteen experience could be utilized for parents to keep a closer eye on their younger teens on Facebook; those ranging from 13 to 15 who typically jump in without any guidance at all. Facebook for under 13's will produce teens who have matured in the social media realm with the expectation that parents play a significant role.
If correctly implemented, Facebook could offer kids and parents a shared platform that would afford kids a safer environment to explore, learn and ultimately understand the responsibility that comes along with social media. Think of it as a virtual 'kiddie pool' of sorts.
With this said, I don't think 'Facebook for Kids' is a bad idea. What do you think?
Let's face it; most of us may never be in a position of knowing more about technology than those who grew up with the Internet and its devices intricately woven into their lives. However, as parents, we are in a position to impart life lessons such as good judgment, reason, empathy and most important, consequences. This position can be fleeting so the sooner you can start and the more consistently you communicate the most impact it can have.
When it comes to the Internet most teens, and for that matter most adults, may not fully comprehend the concept of permanence. Anything posted online will never truly be erased and can come back to haunt you down the road. Deleting an image or a comment is not an indication that someone hasn't already viewed or copied that image or comment. Being unable to erase a mistake can put the future of today's naive youth in jeopardy. That is particularly so when many colleges and prospective employers frequently research potential candidates on the Internet.
Find any opportunity to remind your teen that everything they post may have an unwanted consequence. Maybe not today, but at some point when it might matter to their future. It may be difficult for many teens to think in terms of their future when it comes to actions they want to take today. But even now, let them consider, is what they are about to post something they would be proud to have a grandparent see?
In 2007 The Ad Council in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children developed some very powerful public service announcements geared to helping teens understand the power of permanence on the Internet. View one of these still very relevant videos below with someone you think that can benefit from the message.
We learned from an early age that bullies can be abusive physically or emotionally, and that they often encourage peers to act the same way towards their intended victim. The social tools of the Internet that appeal most to teens (e.g., the ability to communicate to a lot of people at once, share pictures and videos easily, or pretend to be a different personality or identity) are the tools teens use to easily and effectively humiliate others. And the potential anonymity of it all can make it difficult for parents and teens to identify and report an online bully.
How has bullying evolved?
Before Internet(or "BI"): A bully was restricted by physical location and time. They had to be pretty much standing in front of their target to deliver their verbal or physical attack. This made identifying the attacker easy. And once the victim walked away, the bullying ended.
Now: A bully can be anyone, anywhere at anytime. The Internet never sleeps. And an insulting or abusive message, once put out there, can persist forever and be seen by countless people. Plus, the Internet can be so anonymous that it may never be possible to identify an attacker, making it very difficult to stop. Finally, the bullying can continue even when the victim is safe at home. The content of the abuse follows the victim wherever they go, and can leave the teen feeling helpless.
Tools & Methods of the Cyberbully
Cyberbullying can happen in many ways. These are just some examples:
- -Sending mean text, e-mail, or instant messages
- -Posting nasty pictures or messages about others in blogs or on Web sites
- -Using someone else's user name to spread rumors or lies about someone
- -Sending repeated notes
- -Forwarding supposedly private messages, pictures or videos to others
Teach your kids how to deal with a cyberbully
Tips to avoid being a cyberbullying victim:
- -Don't give out personal information like name, address, phone number, social security number, school or even the names of family and friends. Certainly don't give out your password.
- -Don't exchange pictures or give out contact information (including email) to people you meet online.
- -Don't send a message when you are angry or upset. Once you put something out on the Internet you can't take it back. EVER.
- -Realize that anything you say or do online is never really private. If even one person can see or read it then it can be copied, saved or shared -- even if you try to remove it later.
Detecting cyberbullying and if your child is a victim:
Watch for signs that your child is being bullied online. Are they reluctant to use the computer or go to school?
- -Depending on how your child is being bullied, report any incidents of harassment to your ISP or cell phone provider.
- -Block the harassing email or IM via parental controls or privacy tools provided by your ISP.
- -Do not reply to harassing messages.
- -If bullying includes physical threats, report it to the police.
Since its inception, this feature has caused much hype in IT magazines and online forums. Many ardently claim that this feature compromises privacy and endangers safety, while also presenting opportunities for stalking and other malicious activities. Also, friends can check into a certain location and broadcast who they are with, thus sacrificing the privacy of others. In contrast, other blogs state that while some may view it as privacy infringement, Facebook allows one to alter his or her privacy settings so that Places does not apply to them. It is a service for only those who wish to use it and Facebook works perfectly fine without it.
It is critical to explore this feature and make an informed decision before using it. To its credit, Facebook has implemented certain in built privacy settings for those who choose to avoid Places. First, this is an opt-in instead of an opt-out option. This means that Facebook users must manually choose to enable it; it is not a default setting. Secondly, even if friends have tagged you while "checking in," you can choose to reject the tag. This allows your friends to remain checked in and you to remain incognito simultaneously. The simplest way to disable this feature altogether is to uncheck a box in the privacy settings, under "Applications and Websites." This way, users don't have to worry about instantly untagging themselves.
Although Facebook Places does provide added entertainment and some convenience, it is a feature that must be used with complete awareness and prudence. As with all social networking websites, it is extremely important to steer clear of unsafe online behavior.
Simmons mentions that one of the biggest threats posed by cyberbullying is that it follows your daughter home, exists in school, and is a constant part of her social life. She cannot just come home and shut the door on it; it resides within her cell phone and her computer. According to Simmons, teenage girls often lack the communication skills necessary for conflict resolution; it is much easier for them to text their anger.
Some tips Simmons offers for parents include not letting your teens sleep with cell phones next to their beds or under their pillows. Additionally, set an example by not constantly using your cell phone and engaging in other activities with your daughter. Teens frequently learn from example, with parents being their greatest influence.
NPR offers further coverage of the interview here, including more tips and precautions for your teenager. Social media makes it easier to make and keep friends, but it also comes with drawbacks. Encourage your teen to protect her privacy online and to be aware of the dangers of social networking.
Most social networkers are familiar with the format of Facebook and MySpace, but Google+ has a brand new look with entirely new features. Since its member base is increasing day by day, it is necessary for parents to familiarize themselves with the interface. The most distinguishing thing about Google+ is its registration process. Currently users cannot open an account unless they have been invited. This invitation must come from a registered member and a new account can only be created upon acceptance. This is beneficial in that your teen will probably only get invites from one of her friends, not from strangers who wish to add her online.
The layout of Google+ is centered on five main features: circles, hangouts, instant upload, sparks and huddle. Circles is essentially a creative way to set up privacy settings, the user can choose to place different people in different circles and share specific information with each. If the user wants to share Christmas photographs with Grandma and party pictures with friends, he or she can do so conveniently. Hangouts let specific people, or entire circles, know that you are "hanging out" and are free to chat-face to face or through messaging. Instant upload allows pictures and videos to be shared directly from your phone to avoid the traditionally lengthy process of uploading. Sparks is, in my opinion, the most innovative feature of all. Once a user tells sparks what he or she is interested in, whether it be fashion or sports or music, the feature provides them with articles or videos that pertain to their hobbies. The last feature offered, Huddle, is particularly applicable to social butterflies. This feature enables you to enter group chat via Google+ on your phone, making it significantly easier to make plans with a large group.
If you wish to learn more about Google+ and its features, the interactive tutorial offered by Google is highly informative. It's critical to keep up with technology, especially those that your teens are using. As Google+ becomes the next big thing, keep your teen safe and informed about its use.
Explaining the perils of social networking to a preteen can be arduous and often unfruitful. It can also be useless to forbid preteens from social networking while all of their friends utilize Facebook via mobile phones or personal computers. Fortunately, there is a happy medium. Instead of using mainstream websites which generally cater to 13 plus audiences, NPR has compiled a list of Top Ten Social Networking Sites for Kids.
These websites offer top notch safety features to satisfy parents but they also successfully incorporate the varied interests of tweens. Some of these websites offer games and "hangout" opportunities, while others serve as forums for upcoming fashionistas and music gurus. There are several available websites such as GirlSense and Sweetyhigh that are restricted to all-girl membership. Others, such as WhatsWhat.me offer social networking for children over the age of seven.
The truly impressive aspect of these websites lies in the innovative safety features offered. Yoursphere, for example, subjects parents to background checks before their children can create an account. In addition, it vets its members against a registered sex offender database to further ensure safety. Imbee offers excellent opportunities for parents to remain involved while their children learn to network online.
There is no foolproof way for parents to ensure cyber safety; however, educating youth about their cyber footprints and the need for caution is a critical first step. As we become further engrossed in this age of iPhones and Facebook, both parents and tweens can find solace in remaining informed.
I don't want to get into all the details about how to sign up and how it works. You can go to the site for those details. Instead, I wanted to share this with you in the interest of sharing knowledge of new uses for existing technology. I don't know how many teens are using this kind of technology, I only learned about it through a few of my friends (all adults).
The basics premise is that you use your cell phone to announce where you are at any given time to your friends on social networks. Here is an example of FourSquare in action when one of my friends went to a local restaurant. (His name and pictures covered for privacy).
Since my friend registered with FourSquare, he has "checked in" 103 times. This means that he posted that he was at a specific location on Facebook and Twitter 103 times.
The badges represent various things including how frequently you go to a specific location and if you have any friends that recently checked in at the same location.
Once you "check in", it shows up on the social networks that you specify. Here is what the check in looks like on Facebook.
And here is what it looks like on Twitter
While there are some benefits to using applications like FourSquare, you want to be careful how you use it. I think it is obvious that you wouldn't want to post your home address. What may not be obvious is that there is some level of risk that if you post your location and often visit the same locations at the same times.
The purpose of this article is to simply show you how existing technology is being used in new ways. It is up to you to decide if and how to use it for yourself and your family. What are some of the benefits you see in using FourSquare? What are some of the risks you see?
3 Simple Rules to Keep in Mind
- Stick with your friends. Have your teens limit their privacy settings to Only Friends. That'll restrict who sees your kids' information, including pictures, videos, and applications they use.
- Keep private information private. When filling out their bios, teens can leave fields blank. There is no need for your teens to post their phone numbers or addresses. These features are optional and aren't required to create a Facebook account.
- Don't let your information get away from you. If your teens haven't restricted who can share their information, their personal data can end up in the hands of marketers. Also, advise your teens to be on the lookout for personal information requests -- like their birthday or music playlist -- from third parties. And make sure your teens uncheck the public search results box so people can't find their Facebook page through a Google search.
What are some simple tips you have to keep yourself and family safe while online?
According to this MSNBC article, I am not the only person to use company resources for personal reasons. This one more personal than my example: "Jeff Quon, a California SWAT sergeant, was given a pager from his employer, the Ontario Police Department. He was later found to have used the device not only for work but also for pleasure, often sending sexually explicit text messages to his wife and his mistress."
Quon's employer found out by reading the texts, siting that the pager was "owned by the department". Quon felt that it was a violation of his privacy. The courts were brought into the mix and it is now going to be escalated to the Supreme Court to determine if the department had the right to read the texts.
The Supreme Court heard the case last Monday and a decision is expected by the end of June.
Regardless of how it turns out, this will effect most workplaces. What do you think the outcome should be? Should the messages be kept private? Or did the department have the right to read them?
Apparently this is not uncommon. According to this article from the U.K., one in five families keep in touch via social networking sites.
Many decades ago, families didn't stray go far from home as they grew. Now, a very large percentage of people I know have moved far from their hometown. As people are more and more mobile, the Internet is being used to keep families together. It may not be as good as the family dinners, but it is better than nothing.
Do you keep in touch with family online more than you do in real life?
This year, a Girl Scout used You Tube to promote her cookie sale. The video started with her stating her full name, then saying that she wanted to sell 12,000 cookies and why she wanted to sell that many. On one hand, it is an innovative way to sell more cookies. On the other hand, a young girl is saying her full name in a video, doing what some could argue as potentially risky online behavior.
The Girl Scout and her father went on the Today Show with a representative of the Girl Scout organization. Watch this segment of the Today Show and let us know where you stand. Do you think Girl Scouts should be able to market themselves online in any (tasteful) way to sell the cookies? Or should they be barred from online promotion or sales for the sake of safety?