I’m getting just a little bit tired of the current assault on social networking sites by people who, frankly, should know better. Questions regarding who bears the brunt of the responsibility when it comes to protecting children on these sites still all too often miss the point.
For example, today I read this article in which a guy called Tom Ilube from the identity firm Garlik states:
“Busy parents can’t be expected to monitor their children’s activities all the time. What are Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and the others doing to help?”
Wrong, Tom. They can be expected to monitor their children’s activities all the time — not necessarily directly, admittedly, but via a proxy, whether it be monitoring software or an appointed in loco parentis adult. Busy parents are still parents. Ultimately, responsibility for the safety of their children lies with them. It isn’t enough to argue that some parents are technologically illiterate, or that children now access the Internet using many devices, such as mobile phones. These are 21st-century parenting problems that have to be addressed, either by talking to the child, building understanding and trust or, where that doesn’t work, monitoring and, if necessary, restricting.
Yes, social networking sites have a role to play in child safety/protection. And from what I have seen over the past eleven years or so, they are doing a better job than they ever have before. But the bottom line is that parents have to (and, increasingly, are) take complete responsibility where the protection of their children is concerned. If your child uses Facebook or MySpace, ask to see their friends. Discuss the pros and cons. Make them aware of the dangers.
Whatever you do, don’t be too busy — and don’t rely upon Facebook and MySpace to babysit your children. However good their intentions, however much money they throw at the problem, it will still be an imperfect system. Bear that in mind and take the proactive, involved approach that I’m sure most of you (if not all) already have.