Can Teen Social Networking Time Be Valuable?
Are kids just wasting time when they hangout on social media sites like Facebook? A study by the MacArthur Foundation says no. It argues teenagers learn skills that are important to their generation — skills on how to socialize, how to build a web page, how to manage a public persona, how to cope with emotions and even how to handle bullies.
As the parent of teenagers, I say fair enough. I would also hope my teens learn, through their social networking, how to manage time. But kids don’t learn in a vacuum. I know that good parenting includes the setting and enforcement of time rules, such as “socializing shuts down at 10pm.” In the old days that meant no telephone tête-à-tête after 10. Today that means no Myspace, Youtube or Hi5 after 10.
The oh-so-common response from my son will be that he needs an Internet-connected laptop in his bedroom because he’s working late on homework. No doubt his response holds an grain of truth. But the time-honored risk is that he’ll also use that laptop to chat late into the night, after the rest of the family has gone to bed.
That’s where technical controls can serve the modern duty of parenthood. Software can be installed on that laptop to block Facebook starting 10:00pm. Alternatively, the software can monitor the teen’s Internet usage and report to the parent which sites were visited, at which time and for how long. That enables a parent to know how the laptop was used and to open a loving conversation after the fact about good time management.
What’s more, the mere presence of monitoring and reporting software can foster the desired behavior. If teen believes Dad has the ability to review activities, then teen adjusts his behavior without Dad having to actually review the reports.
Update: Research shows that college students on Facebook make lower grades. Although the research does not conclusively show that Facebook depresses academic performance, this news gives parents of high schoolers an additional reason (at a minimum) to monitor and place time limits on social networking.
Update: Parents s can now use the free Threat Detector service to discover which risky places chldren have been visiting.
Ben is an advisor to CyberPatrol, thought leader in Internet Safety.