This is an issue that causes rather heated discussions in the media, in schools and among parents. The discussion is a close cousin to the discussion of computer games and television and hard rock and its bad influence on children and teens.
Here are a few of the latest stories on these subjects: Boys sending nude-photos of themselves to a stranger. Chatting on Facebook can lead to depression. Online bullying.
My general view on this is that by blaming computer games, FaceBook or texting for whatever ails the young is a way of running away from our responsibilities as parents.
Back in the “good old days” before wall-to-wall TV, computers and mobile phones, there were also dangers. Our parents, the good ones, explained to us the dangers out there. They told us what to do, if we were approached by strangers, they told us where it was safe to go at night, they told us about alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and sex. And just like now, some parents were successful in teaching their children this, others weren’t.
I would never forbid my children to have an account on Facebook or Myspace or install safety-software on their computers. But I would sit down with them and tell them about the dangers involved. Explain why it’s wise only to give your phone number and full address to people you actually know IRL or who’ve been vouched for by personal friends. I would tell them about dishonest people who might want to befriend them, posing as someone and something they are not. And how to avoid this. If I had a young teen boy I’d explain to him how most porn flicks and pictures are made, just so he’d know what kind of industry he’d be supporting by browsing porn sites. And most importantly, I would make sure that my relationship with my children was such that they would come to me if they were suddenly in over their heads, whatever the reason.
I don’t tell my children that they can’t use Wikipedia, because there’s information on there, which is not true. I tell them how Wikipedia is created and where Wikipedia is useful and where it isn’t and how to go about verifying information in general, be it an e-mail circulated story (e.g. a virus warning), a Wikipedia entry or just something you vaguely remember.
The overall rules for overcoming the dangers in life are not all that different now than they were then. Honestly, I think we, as parents, have become more lazy and want to leave the schools, the society, the television stations and the software companies with the burden of protecting our children.
But it is mainly our own responsibility as it always has been and as it should be!