Saturday, December 2, 2017

Children and Privacy in the Age of Social Media

This Blog Was Written by 
Ceicelia Oliva 

I think that one of the most important priorities for parents is to keep their children safe from harm. Nowadays, part of that responsibility involves safety online. According to a Pew survey conducted during 2014 and 2015, 94 percent of teens who go online using a mobile device do so daily and 71 percent of teens say they use more than one social media site (Pew). There are many risks online such as cyberbullying, sexual solicitation, exposure to violent and sexual content, or oversharing information. How can parents protect their kids from such risks? I intend to answer this question by thinking about the concept of privacy in children and teens’ lives. 

The definition of privacy in the Oxford dictionary is “a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people”. In Merriam-Webster, it is defined as the “freedom from unauthorized intrusion”. Let’s put these definitions in context. If teens have privacy online then it means that they are in control of their activity there whether it is on social media, on apps or on their Internet searches, and that no one should interfere without their consent. Does this seem reasonable given the myriad of risks online? Being a stepmom of a nine-year-old boy, I think about this a lot and unlike some parents I know, I don’t think there should be an expectation of privacy at this age. Safety should come first. With the constant rise of social media use by teens, parents should monitor their activity online. I think it is not a matter of discipline, it is a responsibility. Now, the issue for me is the way parents do it, which is more often than not a rather big challenge.

Many parents know their kids’ passwords to their social media accounts and regularly check the content posted. Some parents install apps such as TeenSafe to track their children’s activity on their phones. I am not against these types of monitoring as long as they are openly discussed and known by everyone in the family. The problem is that a lot of parents do so without their kids knowing. According to CEO of TeenSafe, anecdotal evidence shows that more than half the kids don’t know they are being watched (the company says they are encouraging parents to come clean about it though). Some people might think that the use of such apps is a violation of trust. However, isn’t it just a way for parents to protect their kids online? Doing some research on the subject, I found many articles which titles included the words “spying” or “snooping” (Should You Spy on Your Kids? Do You Snoop on your children?

Some of these articles underline the fact that what may seem like preventing danger online is actually a form of excessive parental scrutiny and that it is an intrusive behavior violating their kid’s privacy. Again, I disagree with this idea if the way the parental monitoring is done moderately and openly. My stepson is not yet ‘active’ on any social media platforms but when he is eventually, I will know his passwords and he will be aware of it. I will install software programs which will filter out websites known to be inappropriate for kids and I will look at his search history on the Internet. Does it seem excessive and intrusive? Maybe to others, especially to people who don’t have kids; but being a parent and aware of the many dangers online, I don’t think it is. For example, teens can be victims of cyberbullying which very often creates psychological and emotional distress leading to anxiety, depression and sometimes suicide. Another risk is the early exposure to sexual content possibly leading to early sex, sex addictions or sexual violence. 

There are plenty more dangers which is why I intend to be an active part of his life online, gradually stepping back as he gets older. I will monitor him openly so he can moderate his own behavior. The dynamic I want to create between him and I is one that I didn’t have with my parents. I didn’t grow up with smartphones and the Internet was still pretty new to me then. Safety and privacy were not intertwined the way it is in my stepson’s life. For example, what consisted of my privacy as a kid was my journal. My thoughts and my emotions on paper were mine and if someone were to read them I would feel betrayed. I think it would have been wrong of my parents to read my journal back then (maybe they have!) However, 

I don’t think it’s wrong for parents to read their kids posts on Facebook or see their photos on Instagram. Now you may think that I have a double standard there. I don’t think I do though…I couldn’t get hurt writing in my journal so why would my parents monitor my writing? On the other hand, my stepson can seriously get hurt online, therefore I have to watch what he does, sees and reads there.

Do you disagree with this type of monitoring? Do you think that kids have the right to privacy when it comes to their own activity online? Share your thoughts!


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