13 June 2013

Social Media...friend or foe?

The 'press' about social media and children is usually not good news. Children and pre-adolescents don't have a firm grasp of the power of social media - and it can get them into a bit of trouble. This is one of the reasons why most developers of these sites specify an age at which you can have an account - usually 13+, and in some cases, the age at which you can legally sign a contract (that is, 16 years old in Australia).

Despite this, the reality is that many parents are either allowing their children to have social media accounts or simply don't know that their children are using them.

Chris Wise (one of our Year 7 teachers) has written an informative piece every parent should read. It will help you understand the social media your children are using and to make some informed decisions about what you will allow and not allow. It is important that EVERY parent have these discussions with their children. It's about their safety, their emotional health, and their future.

Please note: the links in Chris' article are not active as I don't want my blog linked to some of these sites in any way.

I hope this is helpful for you.

Keeping Informed:
What your children could be using online
I originally wrote this two years ago in response to parents who wanted to ‘keep ahead’ of their children online. Bad news people, that’s not going to happen. But, you can stay informed and you can manage, restrict, and monitor your child’s social media usage. Understanding how your children are using technology is the most vital step in ensuring they benefit from its advantages without suffering the consequences of its misuse.

As an advocate of technology in education and social networking, I feel an obligation to help parents at least try to keep up. I’ve complied a list of frequently used or concerning forms of social media with a brief explanation and links to sites that discuss the dangers of these websites/platforms/apps. I hope it’s beneficial to you. If there is something you’re aware of that I am not that you believe should be added, or would like some information about a something not listed, please let me know.

It is my suggestion that most, if not all of these, be blocked from your child’s access until they are of legal age for the Term & Conditions. Since the first version of this article two years ago, some of these sites have long since lost relevance to a new generation of social media users. Oh, and by the way, lots of kids don’t even want a Facebook account. After all, Facebook is for old people (feeling old now?).

We’re starting with a site every parent should be extremely wary of:

chatroulette / chatroulette2 and it’s various other more nefarious versions (No age limit - should be 18+)
Chatroulette has NO login, NO profiles, NO terms and conditions. With a working webcam, a user is paired randomly with another user of any age, anywhere in the world for a video chat session. And this happens from the moment the user accesses the site. It appears to be populated by the less appealing members of our society. Five minutes here will leave you in no doubt as to the unsuitability of it for minors (and adults in most cases). There are now many random chat sites: Omegle, chabbler, JayDo, Zupyo (take a breath) chatrandom, streamberry, FunYo, Camzap, Bazoocam, Roulettechat, Flipchat, Imeetzu, chatpig, cahtbazaar and facebuzz to name a few. Some have more restrictions, or different ways of matching people together. Don’t believe your 11 year old - they’re all inappropriate for children.


Formspring (13+)
Formspring has been extremely popular with school age children in the U.S. and has gained notoriety in the press for being a key component in some of the worst examples of online bullying. Formspring allows users to ask questions of their friends in an online poll format. Some of the most blatant and vile bullying I’ve seen has occurred on this site.


Foursquare (Must be old enough to form a legally binding contract)
Foursquare is a social networking application that allows you to see where your friends are and for them to see where you are. It is a tool with some worthwhile features, but raises obvious questions about child safety. Yes, I might want to know where my child is, but does everyone else have to?


MSN Messenger / Skype / Kik Messenger (No age restriction for Skype, but must be old enough to enter into a legally binding contract and in most countries that is 16+ or 18+. Kik is 17+)
Both of these have been around for a long time and most children in my classes are familiar with them. The concerns around these sites range from online bullying, to the safety of video chatting and talking to people you don’t know. One issue often overlooked is the ability to file share. What is being shared? Who owns what is shared?

Kik is the new, cool app that you are unlikely to be aware of. Kik allows users to send text messages to each other without a cell phone (uses a wi-fi connection). Unlike a cell phone text, which reveals at least a phone number, Kik allows users to remain anonymous and use nicknames for usernames. It can run on an iPod, iPad or even a Kindle.


Youtube (13+ to hold an account, 18+ to view certain content)
How many parents are aware that their children are uploading videos to Youtube from their bedrooms? Or what’s on their favourites list? I assure you, there are videos of children in my class this year on Youtube. Videos can be uploaded quickly and easily from PCs and mobile phones- not to mention the questionable content uploaded by some members of this community. Youtube is a wonderful resource, but can be a minefield of body parts and abusive language (read the comments on most clips).


Twitter (No age restriction - must be able to form a legally binding contract, see Skype).
Microblogging and multimedia sharing. These sites allow you to update your status or blog about a topic. It also allows you to share photos and links with varying degrees of security set by the user. Twitter seems to have become more popular with ‘older’ tech users, but is immensely popular in gossip circles for keeping up with Justin Beiber. As with many of above services, they can be valuable tools personally and professionally, but children need to understand their usage and consequences for misuse.


Instagram (13+)

Instagram, or social network grooming 101, is essentially a photo sharing app with it’s own social network built in. Of all the social media applications available, it is right now, the most popular with young people. It seems innocent (why does everyone want their photos to look like they were taken in 1979 anyway?), take a photo and show it to your friends. But, if children taking photos themselves and publishing (it is publishing, read the terms and conditions) them online isn’t concerning enough, consider geotagging (photo locations) and Instagram’s less than secure privacy settings that allows anyone to view them. In addition to this, instagram is full of questionable content, body parts and duck faces (duck face? Google it) that is only a #hashtag away. Most importantly, it is yet another way for strangers to access your child and their personal information.

Facebook / Tumblr / Google+ / MySpace Etc. (13+ Facebook + Myspace, 18+ Tumblr, No restriction on Google+)
Much has been written about Facebook and the advantages and disadvantages. While Facebook has become second nature to many of us, it’s important to remember that most of us were adults when we created a Facebook profile and have the wisdom of our years to decide how to use it for our own purposes. A quick Google search will alert you to the many copyright, privacy, security and bullying concerns these sites (and those like them) raise.


One of the reasons I began a professional Twitter and Facebook page was to show students how these tools can be used for a purpose other than mindless communication and procrastination (How many High Distinctions went begging in Uni because of Facebook?). As with each of the above, in the end it is how these tools are used and monitored that determine their safety and effectiveness. I certainly don’t want my students to be scared of social networking, rather I want them to understand the nature of them, why they need to be safe, and most importantly how to be safe.

I’ve listed many links here; you’ll find these and many more with a quick search. I may not agree entirely with some of the things written, but certainly with the intention of them. My own suggestion to you as parents is to talk to your children about how they are using the Internet (and trust me, there are many more sites like these). Decide on what YOU think is appropriate use and limit them to that. I personally see no need for children to have multiple profiles across multiple platforms. Especially, when most of them are being used for the same thing - talking to friends.

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