About a month and a half ago I was asked by our PTO to host a viewing of Growing Up Online by PBS Frontline and facilitate a discussion after. The session was attended by approximately a dozen parents who were interested in learning more about keeping their children safe online. We had some great discussions about the program and what some of these parents were doing with their children.
My message to parents about keeping their children safe online is fairly simple. Parents in my community are a large part of their children's offline lives. I push them to become as much a part of their children's online lives. I use the analogy of the Internet being very much like a large city (plenty of places and people you'd be ok with them getting to know and many you'd like to keep them far away from). I don't know any parents who would just drop their children off in the middle of a large city in the morning telling them "have a good time today... I'll pick you up at 8pm." They also would never allow a friend "to show them the ropes" either. Why on earth would they allow that to happen on the Internet? I feel that parents need to get involved with online services like chat, social networking, etc. so that they can communicate with their children in these arenas. Otherwise their children's online lives become a private place where their parents do not belong. If you bring your children to these online services and teach them how you'd like them to use them at a young age (legal age for Facebook is 13) it will not be something that they will push you away from. If a parent never disciplined a child until he/she was 15 they'd have some real problems. Not being part of their online lives until their children are immersed in these worlds is very much the same. Parents do need to allow their children to grow and slowly allow them more freedom with their online lives as they get older (just like they do offline).
So back to my evening with the PTO...
As I was speaking with some of the parents after the PTO meeting, I got the idea of holding another night to help parents become acquainted with social networking. My co-workers in the district (Alice Barr and Cathy Wolinsky) and I developed a plan for our evening and put it out to the parents. We held this evening session on Monday night and it was absolutely amazing. We had approximately 35 parents show up for our session on setting up an account on Facebook. We wanted to appeal to parents who were not comfortable getting started on their own so we kept the goals for the night fairly simple. We taught them how to:
- Set up an account
- Add friends
- Set privacy settings they were comfortable with
- Join a group for parents in our town (we planted that one with one of the parents)
Alice, Cathy and I were clear right from the beginning in our motives for holding this event. We find that many parents are not involved in social networking and get caught up in the media frenzy surrounding these sites and their children's safety. We wanted to make them comfortable with Facebook so they could make good decisions about how they want to proceed with their children - not just deny their children access out of fear of the unknown. We were clear that we don't have all the answers. This is parenting at its best and there is no one solution that will work for all kids. We had a great mix of parents with children ranging from elementary through high school ages. This mix allowed for some great interaction for parents who are already in the middle of it all and parents just getting the questions from their children about becoming involved in the online world.
Here's the list of resources we shared with the parents who attended this session:
Thoughts on Facebook - Cornell University
All in the Facebook Family: Older Generations Join Social Networks - CNN
100 Awesome Facebook Apps for Productivity and Learning - Select Courses
How to Survive the New Facebook - Mashable
Facebook for Parents - Common Sense Media
10 Privacy Settings All Facebook Users Should Know - AllFacebook.com