Last year my young teen daughter began whining “I NEED A FACEBOOK!” at a pitch that would drive even the well-adjusted ear mad. This happened at least once a day with exponential growth occurring in how often and how loud this exclamation was heard. On the rare occasion that she could calmly speak about the topic, her argument was that all her friends no longer used email or Google Buzz. According to her, there was “. . . no way to keep in touch with everyone.”
I found this a bit silly at first considering that I survived my teen years without the internet. And yes, she no longer went to school with her closest friends, but she could always pick up the cell phone I provided for her. And all of her new school friends lived within 2.5 miles of the house. Why Facebook?
She exclaimed, “Everyone is on Facebook!”
She was right. Even though I frequently discuss the perils of peer pressure, I could not see keeping her from the place where her friends were socializing. It’s no longer at the corner pizza place, on the phone, or even via email. Facebook is a necessity.
I did not want her to begin interacting on Facebook before she had a clear understanding of the responsibility tied to using technology for social networking. If I said, “Here are the keys to the car,” before she had driver’s education, I would be off my rocker. So here’s what I did:
I created a social media research project that had to be presented to me in order to open a Facebook account.
The project included short essays and presentations on various topics concerning computer literacy and social media. She wrote about the history of the computer, the internet, Apple vs. Microsoft, Facebook, Google, LAN and WAN, netiquette and Socialnomics. Presentations were made using either a Microsoft Office or Web 2.0 tool.
She was very resistant to the project, but the desire to have a Facebook account outweighed her disdain for the idea of the work involved. Because of her school work and activities, it took her three months to complete the entire list of project components. And some I had her edit or do over until she illustrated she had an understanding of what she learned and how to apply it.
Was it a lot of work? Yes.
Was it fun? I am sure she would say, “No.” But I disagree.
The video recorded interview that she did with her dad, a retail executive, for her presentation on Socialnomics
, looked fun to me. And her use of PowerPoint
, Windows Live Movie Maker
for other presentations exhibited signs of fun and creativity. She was also required to create a web page using Google Sites
. Even if she would not describe it as fun, I saw some excitement in her face when she was researching facts about the Beatles to include on her site.
There was more complaining to endure when she reached the final component of the project because the required length was longer than the rest. It was the most important entitled,
How do I want the world to know me?
I explained that once she enters the world of social networking, she’s there forever. Every post counts. This is how everyone, all of the friends she wants to keep up with and the world, will know her. There is no taking it back.
There is no chance of a verbal explanation of what she intended to communicate. Posts online are Polaroid snapshots of her life on her permanent record.
She tackled the How I Want the World to Know Me presentation by using the web camera on her laptop. She toted her open laptop around the house giving details about why she likes spending time in each part of the home. This was clever. Even though it is difficult to go unnoticed in this small house, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the specifics in her final edited video.
She was elated when the project was approved. She squealed with excitement that she could finally become social again. She thought, “Project complete. Facebook account opened. Done.”
She was wrong. I set up expectations for using Facebook. Online safety is crucial. But this was more unpopular than the research project.
Some of the guidelines I set are that I am to know her password, do random spot checks while she is online, and limit her time spent socially connected until after homework is done. The time boundary is difficult because social media is a powerful collaborative tool for homework. This is where coming into her room and peaking over her shoulder, or ‘spot checks’, becomes effective.
Online safety issues continue to emerge and evolve as she gets older and her circle of friends becomes larger. I recommend setting a limit on the amount of friends your child has on Facebook. I also recommend you know who your child is friends with on Facebook and know who she interacts with the most. It’s not an easy task. It takes time. But remember, you can’t drive by the corner pizza shop to see if your kid is hanging out with the wrong crowd. It’s online.
We can’t keep our kids from socializing online. We need to support it just like every other stage of development. This is our responsibility as global citizens. We must not be afraid.
Even if your kids are already using social media, I encourage you to implement a research project. The project can include how they use technology for socializing, school, and entertainment. It will give them opportunities to try new applications, develop critical thinking skills
, and become aware of online safety. It will support the development of media literacy.
It may be fun to do a project with your child. You can brush up on your knowledge of your home network, new software, and your own online persona. But do not go back and look at your old MySpace profile. That is, unless you want to show your kids what happens when you get the keys to the car without a license.
Kimberly at Sperk*