The main point I made was banning children from using social networking sites like Facebook, Bebo and MySpace will just not work, for one banning illegal activities like under aged smoking and drinking doesn’t work, sooner or later children will find a way to access social networking websites anyway, which isn’t illegal by the way. Furthermore preventing a child from using the home PC is a reckless approach in the information age and pretty pointless exercise, as children can access the internet and social networking from their mobile phones, on school computers, perhaps with friend’s laptop, crikey they can even access social networking sites through games console!
The clear answer I gave to this problem, cyber education. Not the usual optional Internet awareness classes give out of hours in secondary school, but mandatory classes on how to use the Internet safely in the later years of primary schools. For me this type of Information Communication Technology (ICT) education should not be just akin to the “don’t talk to strangers” and “crossing the road safely” type education, but needs to be as essential as Maths and English. School ICT lessons simply should not be just about how to do a bit of Desktop Publishing and putting together PowerPoint presentations, but be about the essential “life” skills on how to keep safe and secure when online.
While talking on Five Live about my thoughts on this subject, I went on to give an example of five things to which our primary children should be taught about social networking, and indeed what parents should be aware of too, apart of cyber bullying, social networking is the favourite tool of identity thieves. These five pieces of advice were:
1. USE GOOD FRIENDS MANAGESMENT
Child Advice: The first golden rule is to only accept friend requests from people you know, by know I mean actually have met face-to-face. Secondly only accept friend requests from people you actually like. Just because you know someone it does not necessary mean you like them. If you don’t get on with someone don’t accept them as friend, as usually this leads to no good. Remember a social networking site is not supposed to be about collecting as many friends you can. If you have 100s of friends on your friend’s list, you are just asking for trouble, as no doubt most of these “friends” will be strangers, amongst which there will always be some bad apples.
2. CHECK YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS
Child Advice: Make sure your privacy settings is fully on, particularly ensure you are only sharing your personal postings and pictures with “Friends only”, “Friends of Friends” setting is not good, while “Public” is just asking from trouble.
3. WHAT GOES ONLINE, STAYS ONLINE!
Child Advice: Before posting a comment or picture, stop and think before you hit confirm. Remember once a comment or picture is posted it stays forever, just because you delete it seconds later doesn’t not mean it is gone from the internet. For instance most social networking sites send out an email updates containing your post, and can even post to other social networking sites, for instance Twitter integration with Facebook, so be very careful what you post. If you need to have private and sensitive conversation with your friends, it is always best stick to verbal communications, as you never know who could pickup on your posting.
Parent Advice: Periodically check your child’s posting to ensure you child is posting sensibility. The best way to do this is to add yourself as a friend of your child.
4. NEVER GIVE YOUR PASSWORD OUT
Child Advice: No one ever needs to know your password, except your parents. Emails from Facebook, Bebo, Twitter etc, and from social networking applications asking for your password are always false. Do not share your account with anyone and never give your password out to any of your friends.
Parent Advice: Cyber bullies and worst, often try to fool social networking users to provide them with their password, once they have it, they can get up to allsorts of nasty tricks, ensure your child uses a strong password and remind them never to share it with anyone accept yourself.
5. ENSURE ANTI-VIRUS & PATCHING IS UP-TO-DATE
Child and Parent advice: Make sure your PC’s Anti-virus is operating and kept up-to-date, and also ensure your PC’s Firewall is enabled, and make sure you apply the latest operating systems patches on a regular basis. This will help prevent malicious software covertly installing onto your PC, such software can steal your social networking passwords and send them on to bad guys without your knowledge.
Social Networking, like most things in life, can be fun, an extremely useful tool, and ultimately safe if used responsibly.
There are several useful website resources for this below:
Kidscape (Cyber bullying Awareness for Children)
DirectGov (Cyber bullying Awareness for Adults)
A Guide to Facebook Security and Privacy
Anyone else would like to recommend further websites, please post in the comments, thanks