“Lalit, my daughter's Facebook account has been hacked into. Someone is now sending obscene messages from her account. I am very tensed, pal.”, said a friend of mine whose 14 years old daughter has been on Facebook for quite some time.
Underage kids of many of my friends are highly active on Facebook. And lately we have been discussing the issue of children’s safety on social networks. Surprisingly, in such cases, my friends don't seem to worry about why were their underage kids on Facebook?. Instead they try to find someone who can help them in recovering the kid's account!
The state of affairs is worrisome and is marred by ignorance on parents' part. So, to put the things straight, I decided to write about this issue. I hope all my friends will read this and take care of their kids' activities on Internet.
The crux of this article is that if you are a parent of an underage kid who is glued to social networks –you should be watchful. Women and children are the most vulnerable groups on social networks. There are a number of things that can go wrong if Facebook is not used properly. Facebook was designed by adults for the adults. When one opens an account with Facebook –they ask for the birth date in order to see if the person is underage. Facebook management wants to confirm age because they have good reasons to do so. But, it is very easy to lie to the system about age and get an account. The software system is helpless. But as a parent you should not be as helpless.
Lets have a look at some of the problems your kids could possibly get into if Facebook is not used appropriately:
- Masquerading is a simple and common phenomenon on Internet. Children are highly vulnerable to people with bad intentions who could masquerade as someone very friendly.
- Children like to gain attention of their friends by posting their photos. These photos could be misused by pedophiles.
- Children tend to be less discrete about posting personal information (e.g. residential address, phone number, school address). If such information falls in wrong hands –you kid could be stalked.
- If kids become addicted to Facebook –they might spend too much time online (or thinking about their online world). This could harm their studies.
- Kids could get exposed to inappropriate content. Don't think that pornography is the only form inappropriate content –it could get much worse than that.
- “Cyberbullying” happens when a fellow kid (may be classmate or neighbor) begins to harass your kid on Internet.
- Status updates, videos, SMS, compromising photos posted, especially during angry or too delighted states by your kids could be used by others to damage your kid’s present and future life.
- If enough profile information is available to a person with bad intentions -he might create a fake profile using the same information. Then he can use this new profile to post defamatory content in the name your child. This is called identity theft.
Sounds horrifying? Well, indeed it does. But it’s not something you can’t control. Not all the children are equally vulnerable. But you should not become careless by assuming that your kid is not among the vulnerable ones.
Usually the kids who are vulnerable in their real life are more vulnerable online as well. However, this is also true that more aggressive kids (who seem to be less vulnerable in real life) are actually more likely to become victimized online.
Please note that the psychological makeup of children is very delicate and any sort of victimization can leave an indelible mark on their psyche. It is the responsibility of parents to shield their kids from the dangers of virtual world. Kids do need to learn about technology –so you should not keep them totally away from computers and Internet –but you need to keep your eyes and ears open.
In my next article –I will talk about a few tips that will help you in protecting your children from online harm. To read it click here.
I hope this article will have some effect and the reader will become more careful toward the need of protecting children on social networks.