Tips for parents
Here are tips Southwest Middle School Resource Officer Jay Bialek has for parents of teenagers who want to join Facebook.
- Join Facebook if you aren’t already on.
- Friend your child.
- Go through your child’s friends list to make sure they know everyone on the list.
- Make sure you have your child’s username and password in case of an emergency.
- Check your child’s privacy and account settings. Bialek recommends setting them so only their Facebook friends can see their status updates and photos.
- Prohibit location-based social networking sites, such as Gowalla and Foursquare. Theses sites have fewer privacy controls than Facebook and could allow a predator to know where your child is.
- Don’t allow your child to post personal information, such as address and phone number.
- Teach appropriate Internet citizenship.
- Abide by Facebook’s requirement that users need to be at least age 13.
- Check out resources at facebook.com/help/safety, netsmartz411.org and safekids.com.
On some days when Southwest Middle School resource officer Jay Bialek arrives to work, he is greeted by four or five students ready to report online bullying that had occurred the previous night or weekend.
Facebook is blocked from the school’s computers, and a good chunk of its students aren’t technically old enough to be on it, yet the activity on its walls and message boards permeates the school day.
“The negative criticism, bullying, alliances formed quickly between different sets of kids, that has the potential to carry over to school,” Bialek said.
Each year Bialek educates students and parents on the pitfalls of social media for preteens. Bialek isn’t advocating for or against Facebook or the many other forms of social networking out there. In fact, he maintains a Facebook page as the school’s resource officer.
He does believe that parents should establish clear guidelines for teens before they join Facebook and that parents need to sign on to keep an eye on their children’s activity.
“Education begins at home,” he said.
As part of its terms, Facebook doesn’t allow anyone under age 13 to join. But that hasn’t prevented millions of preteens from doing so.
A survey from Consumer Reports found that of the 20 million minors who used Facebook in the past year, 7.5 million were younger than 13. The survey also found that many of those sites were unsupervised, and 1 million of them were subjected to some form of cyberbullying.
In another national survey conducted by researchers at New York University, 55 percent of parents of 12-year-olds reported their children have Facebook accounts. Of those parents, 82 percent knew when their underage child signed up, and 76 percent assisted their child in creating an account.
Bialek would like parents to enforce Facebook’s 13-and-older rule.
“A lot of our problems, a lot of issues could be avoided when it comes to social media if parents could help us with at least the 13-year-old rule,” Bialek said.
Both Bialek and Southwest Middle School Assistant Principal Matt Fearing believe children under 13 aren’t mature enough to handle the emotional implications that come with the social media site.
“The bullying, rumor mill aspect of this has been unreal,” Fearing told a classroom of parents last week. “Why? Because they don’t have the maturity level to do this.”
But it’s more than just bullying that parents should monitor on Facebook. When Bialek gives his presentation to parents, he starts off with a chilling reminder.
“Years ago it used to be that child predators were hanging out in city parks. But kids don’t hang out in city parks anymore. They hang out online, and that is where the predators are,” Bialek said.
Just as parents warn children about talking to strangers on the street, Bialek said they should offer similar words of caution against talking to strangers online. To help determine how their children communicate online, Bialek said, parents should review who their friends are on Facebook. If they have a friend they don’t know offline, then Bialek said they should be removed.
“Fictitious Facebook accounts are easy to create,” Bialek said. “With some creative cutting and pasting, someone can set up an account to look like a 13- or 14 -year-old teenager. Without even asking questions, kids are friending people they don’t know.”
Facebook already has a default setting that won’t make information or posting public for users between the age of 13 and 18. But Bialek recommends that parents take the extra step and limit those viewing their children’s posts to just their selected friends.
Bialek also is adamant about keeping children away from the location-based social networking sites such as Gowalla or Foursquare, which allows users to check in to businesses, entertainment venues, restaurants and other popular areas.
“I tell the kids over and over again this is a risky behavior if a predator is monitoring your stuff,” he said.
While an online predator is what grabs a parent’s attention, the far more common problem is the online bullying that occurs among preteens with Facebook accounts.
“I see it constantly and consistently,” Bialek said. “About three-quarters of it is from kids who aren’t even supposed to be there.”
In a medium where conversations take place instantly, are broadcast to hundreds of people and are part of the permanent record, preteen quarrels can escalate far faster on Facebook.
“I do spend a good deal of time unraveling the social situations that has been created on Facebook,” Bialek said.
Much of what Bialek does is educating students that online actions can have some serious offline consequences.
Stop, think and then click, Bialek tells his students.