The appeal of Facebook can be seen by both kids and adults alike. With a bit of strategic parental guidance, you can educate your kids about the potential hazards of the social network and give them the tools they need to protect themselves from online predators.
A study performed as part of the Pew Internet and American Life project, a division of the Pew Research centre, reports that 32 percent of online teens have experienced some sort of harassment via the internet, including private material being forwarded without permission, threatening messages, and embarrassing photos posted without their consent.
Research performed at the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center shows that, while adults are inclined to moderate their online behaviour, children and teens are "significantly more willing to 'go further' and to type very shocking things that they would never say in person... Kids believe that online statements simply 'don't count' because they're not being said to someone's face".
Because young people tend to believe that they aren't accountable for their online actions, Facebook becomes a convenient place to target victims for bullying. Although you can't do much to prevent your child from being bullied online, you can help them end the harassment if it starts.
The MARC Center has several guides offering tips on how to handle cyberbullying, and all of them start with communicating directly with your child - don't be afraid to get involved. If you think your child is being bullied, advise your child to spend less time on the site in question, or flag the bully by notifying the website. If the behaviour is also happening at school, notify the school's administrators so that they, too, can get involved. Facebook also makes it easy to report harassment issues, and encourages users to do so. But what if you find out that your child is the one doing the bullying? Both scenarios are possible, and both should be dealt with.
In a New York Times Q&A session on cyberbullying, expert Elizabeth K. Englander of the MARC Center addresses an approach that parents should take if they discover that their child is the bully. She first recommends that you discuss with your child why cyberbullying is hurtful, and bring up some of the tragic cases of teen suicide related to online harassment. Try to understand that your child could be reacting to pressure from friends, or that your child may be retaliating against someone who hurt their feelings in a similar manner. Although such circumstances don't excuse the behaviour, learning about them could bring a larger issue to your attention.
Finally, establish a set of rules for your teen to follow when using Facebook and other social networking sites, and monitor your child's usage, perhaps even placing a daily time limit.
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