The age of social networking is upon us. There are so many on-line areas where people can meet new friends and reacquaint with old ones that it’s hard to choose which one to sign up for. That is why so many of us have accounts with several sites. MySpace, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook are thriving with members in the millions all over the world. These are the places we connect professionally and personally. They are where family and friends who live far from you can see photos of the new baby. These sites are amazing! But, if a child is left alone on these sites, the results can lead to disaster.
When you have young children, you teach them to never wander far from home and to never talk to strangers, yet many parents don’t warn their children about the dangers of wandering the Internet alone. This must be done because using the Internet is a big part of any child’s life if he or she is in school. The Internet is used for studies, but what about when the kids are done studying for the night? Parents need to learn where the danger lies and monitor Internet use so they can teach their children how to surf the Internet responsibly.
Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others have a minimum age for their users of 13 years old. At 13, kids are curious, but they don’t have the maturity to make good judgments when it comes to many situations. They feel that nothing bad can happen to them; it only happens to others. Lately, in the news, it’s been demonstrated how tragic events can happen to innocent kids that started off as simple Internet posts. Kids need to learn that some people they play on-line games with are strangers and should not be allowed to know about their lives. There are many parents who feel there is no harm in allowing their child to play games like Cityville, Castleville or Farmville, but do these parents know who their children’s “neighbors” are? Do parents realize that kids can go to the on-line gaming community to find “neighbors” from all over the world? Every day, kids are “friending” strangers; these strangers are most likely adults. If you warn your kids about strangers in real life, why not warn them about strangers in the virtual world?
In the 60s and 70s, parents were said to have a “live-in babysitter”…the television set. Now, in 2012, parents no longer use the television as a babysitter; they use the computer and social networking. There is a huge problem with this: on-line, anyone can be what they want to be! A 13 year old girl can claim to be 21 and an aspiring actress, a 14 year old boy can claim to be a 30 year old doctor and a 56 year old man can claim to be a 16 year old.
In the 1990s, the chat rooms of America OnLine were the place to be. Technically, a person was supposed to be 18 years old to be able to access the adult chat areas and no one over 17 was supposed to access the “teen” areas. Well, remember that on-line, you can be anyone you want to be. There were teens in adult areas and adults in teen areas. I worked with a person whose husband enjoyed “playing head games” with teenagers. This was a 46 year old man who made two profiles: one was a 16 year old girl and the other was a 16 year old boy. When he went on line as the 16 year old girl, he would chat with the “other girls” about such private things as their dating habits and how they were coping with PMS. When he went on-line as the 16 year old boy, he would try to pick up the young girls.
This man’s wife thought this was very “amusing”. She would come to work and talk about how “clever” “Joe” was to be able to fool these kids. What he was doing was wrong on a lot of levels, but one of the most disturbing facts of this was that this couple had a 16 year old daughter. This is how he was able to talk to the girls about cramps and other problems of PMS; he learned from his daughter. I once asked my co-worker how she would feel if a middle-aged man would talk to her daughter like this, she had no response. She also had no response when I asked how she would feel if her husband got caught up in an FBI sting for pedophiles. After a while, she stopped mentioning “Joe’s” on-line adventures. I don’t know if he stopped or if she just realized it was not something to be proud of.
As mentioned before, social networking sites have a minimum age of 13 years old. That does not stop the kids from lying about their ages. In fact, many parents help their kids make profiles showing that they are 13 years old or older. There are many kids I personally know of who are 10 or under who have their own Facebook pages. They tell their parents that all of their friends have pages, and the parents give in. It’s an old trick, but it still works. The account is set up and the kids are left to explore.