Privacy or Protection: Parents, Kids and Social Networking

There comes a time in every parent’s life that we have to make some tough parenting choices. When do our children start dating? When do they get their license? When do we let them start using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter or Google+? Not only do we have to make these decisions about when, but we also have to determine how. Many a parent is faced with the question of how to balance privacy and protection?”

Recently I read about a father whose open letter posted online to Google, regarding the shutdown of his daughter’s account on Google+ and Reddit. “Thanks for making my daughter cry” was his war cry. He claims that he isn’t upset about his Google complying with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) as well as theses social media giants enforcing the terms of service which require children using the system to be over the age of 13.

Though his daughter’s age is not provided, my guess from the photo is that she is closer to the age of 9. He claims that “They’ve chosen to act apparently without ever considering how their actions might affect the people who use and rely on their services.” Sure, Google could send an email message to the child’s account stating they were going to shut it down within a specified period of time if you don’t close it, but what if the child chose to ignore that statement? What if they didn’t check their email account during that time? The point is that those rules are there to protect our children and should you decide as a parent to allow your child to break those rules, then yes, there will be consequences. His actions and his letter going viral actually proves the point that once you put it on the web, it’s on the web for the whole world to see.

My thoughts, if your child is old enough to have these accounts they should be old enough to be responsible for the consequences of breaking the rules that go with using them, whether it’s age or language, spam or cyberbullying. While I hate to seem harsh, this won’t be the first time a daughter cries over getting caught breaking rules and having consequences and it won’t be the last.

A friend’s 14 year old son recently opened a Facebook account. Mom didn’t have to be a friend, because after all “Mom I have to have some privacy!” But, mom did have to have the password so that occasionally she could check the account, friends list, messages and photos, just to be safe. Within a very short period of time, her son decided to change the password and mom no longer had access. Which made this mother wonder, “Am I violating his privacy?”

It’s okay to wonder if your protection is not allowing any privacy. But the real issue in this situation is the rules were broken and so there must be consequences. After the consequences, then you can look back and wonder if there is a better way to handle protection and privacy as your child uses social networking services. Discuss your child’s actions with them, find out why they acted the way they did.

I’m all for parents being the ultimate decision maker of when and how their children use the Internet. I don’t want someone censoring or making decisions for my children. But we all may need a little help in this area and that’s why there laws like COPPA as well as the terms of service agreement with the sites. If those rules are broken, it’s just like anything else in life, break the rules and “suffer” the consequences.

There are always going to be rules that are harder to follow than others. There are always going to be consequences for any decision made, whether it is right or wrong. Only you can decide what protection and privacy your child’s social networking account should have, but once you do don’t let the “But mom or dad I need some privacy!” keep you from doing your job which is teaching your children what they need to know as they grow.

It’s a fine line to walk, but just like with every tough parenting decision once you make the decisions stick to them. If you are wrong, it is okay to admit it and change them. After all, parents learn from their mistakes too.

Read more by this contributor

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He said, she said: Discipline dilemmas between parents

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