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Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Dark Side of Facebook

I am the meanest mom on the planet. If you don’t believe me, ask my 12 year old daughter. She recently advised me that she is the only person at her middle school that doesn’t have a Facebook page. I found this difficult to believe and set out with a series of interrogating questions to prove that there is at least one other middle school student that doesn’t have a Facebook page, thereby negating her argument that she stands alone. Judging by her face, I clearly missed the point of her message.


I explained to her that the Facebook terms and conditions clearly state that you must be 13 years of age to have an account. I do not judge other parents who allow their children under the appropriate age to partake, but the argument that “everyone else’s parents lets them...” falls deafly upon my ears because I have never altered my principles based on what others are doing (or not doing).


Truth be told, I don’t even believe that 13 is an appropriate age to have a Facebook page. I am keeping an open mind about allowing her to access the site when she turns 13 in ten months but that will depend greatly upon her maturity and will also come with stipulations. Since social networking has exploded into our daily lives, the world has become more flattened. We can talk to people from different countries via video conferencing and digital communication. We are removing barriers with other parts of the world by meeting in one place to discuss ideas and share our blogs. There is much to be said about all the positive aspects of connectivity but there is a dark side that cannot be ignored or discounted.


A venue for sharing pictures and status updates can quickly become a cesspool for cyber-bullying and harassment. Bullying has been an epidemic since schools have been existence and those who suffer at the hands of harassers now have to contend with a digital venue. Before the digital age, bullying and harassment were confined to the school yards. As if that were not enough, it is now even easier to torment a victim through social networks because the bully (who is often a coward beneath the exterior) can hide behind a computer screen to impart even more damage through sheer volume.


Tormenters are becoming cleverer in the way they victimize their prey. It is not uncommon for kids to “post” altered pictures of a person, create a fake page of their victim on Facebook, or threaten violence. These messages and postings are read by everyone in the network and if you have had occasion to check out the Facebook page of a high-schooler near you, there is no shortage of connections.


I’ve heard some people pass it off with the “kids will be kids” mantra. I reject this vehemently because we are seeing a number of teen suicides that can be linked to cyber-bullying. Nine teens were charged in connection with the death of a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl who committed suicide after weeks of bullying on Facebook and at her high school. The bullying included disagreements over teen romances at school and it continued with taunting text messages and harassing postings on Facebook.


The police are discovering a new realm of methodology in the commission of crimes and appropriate laws are being enacted to make electronic harassment illegal. But that doesn’t change the fact that parents need to police their kids’ Facebook pages and text messages and look for anything unsettling. If my daughter gets a Facebook account, she can be assured that my terms and conditions are that I have access to her site and privacy is not an option. As parents, we can be far too trusting when it comes to our child’s cell phones and in-boxes.


As for being labeled the meanest mom in the world, I’m okay with that.