Do you know your kids’ friends? Do they?
I recently asked a group of 13 and 14 year olds how many of their Facebook friends they actually knew personally. Their first response was “all of them.” I was a bit suspicious of this answer given that some of them had hundreds and hundreds (and a few, even thousands) on their ‘friends’ list, so I rephrased the question and asked how many they knew in real life, you know, how many had they actually met face-to-face and talked to.
“Does Skype count?”
“What about in the Mii parade?” (A Mii parade is where the avatars of players come together online using the Nintendo Wii gaming console — apparently)
“No, only people you have met in the flesh, unaided by any technological device.”
They had to think about it, and the answer painted a very different picture.
The majority of these kids had personally met only a fraction of those on their friends list. A fraction! I shuddered at the vulnerable position in which they were placing themselves. And when I showed them examples of where people had pretended to be something they were not via Facebook connections, and ended up hurting—really hurting—someone they didn’t even know, the kids were equally as horrified. They just hadn’t connected the dots.
The problem is, the number of Facebook friends on your profile, has become a symbol of popularity in the social landscape of the 21st century. It’s a horrible (at least in my mind) and very dangerous reality.
I don’t want to talk about the superficial nature of ‘popularity’, or draw comparisons to the aspirational drive of teens to be part of the ever elusive ‘popular’ group. Nor do I wish to use this forum to comment on adolescent angst, or peer pressure, or accepting oneself as one is, these concepts are for someone more qualified than I in adolescent psychology to talk about.
I want to talk about safety. Pure and simple. The reality is that young people DO NOT recognise or understand their own inherent vulnerability. They have hundreds of randoms on their social media friends lists, and I daresay will continue to amass them. The best we can do as the adults whose job it is to keep them safe, is to teach them to reduce risk as much as they possibly can.
The recent changes Facebook has made to its site means a user can effectively prevent anyone, or everyone, on their friends list from posting stuff on their wall. It’s a good way of beginning to deal with the stranger ‘friend’ issue. They still get to increase the numbers on their friends lists, but don’t allow these randoms as much ready access to their personal information.
I can’t stress enough, how important it is to sit down with your teen and take them through the security settings on the various social media sites they use. If you don’t know how to do this, find someone who does. And keep checking. Most of these sites continue to update their security settings to accommodate new and emerging threats, so stay abreast of the changes as they occur.
All the social media sites have provisions to block and report inappropriate or abusive users, but not all of these sites make these provisions easy to find. Look for them, familiarise yourself with them. Show your kids how to use them. At least if they have some awareness of how to adjust their profile settings, they have a better chance of staying safe.
Are you familiar enough with social media security settings to teach them how?