Mark Zuckerberg’s most recent effort to get children on Facebook has left parents, including myself, wondering exactly how he plans on keeping children safe from the adult culture on Facebook. I’ve posted my thoughts about this issue here, but what concerns me the most is that there are millions of parents out there who are still completely unaware of what their children may actually find on the Internet, let alone Facebook. This is a huge problem.
In Yoursphere, we had a recent incident with one member and her parents that really shined a light on this issue. At Yoursphere, we’re always talking about Internet safety—it’s on our Facebook page, it’s on Yoursphere for Parents, and it’s all over our site—it’s essentially the foundation of the company. That said, I think it’s safe to say that any parent who provides consent for their child to be a Yoursphere member has some general regard for that child’s online safety. But even then, this incident made it clear that there are good parents out there who have the best intentions for their children, but are totally unaware of the dangers that await their children on the Internet.
Here’s a breakdown of the incident and how we handled it:
Simply put, the mother was in complete disbelief. She explained to us that her daughter was only in the third grade and that she wouldn’t even know how to search for photos like the ones posted in her sphere. The mother even bet her life on it. In fact, she was sure that her daughter’s Yoursphere account was hacked.
We took the liberty of sending her screenshots so she could see the photos for herself. She ended up writing us back to tell us that she and her husband had a long talk with their daughter about the photos. It turned out that her daughter came across these images when she was searching for clip art of monkeys and Justin Bieber.
We told her:
We monitor our site closely, which is how we were able to find those pictures quickly. We monitor for bullying, language, and inappropriate content of any kind. We’re a positive, young community, and we know that the best way to promote Internet safety is to educate. There is a ton of inappropriate content available to children on the Internet when they’re only looking for the most innocent of things. They don’t always realize when they’re posting something they shouldn’t and so we’re here to help show them how to have a positive experience online.
In the end, these parents walked away more aware about the dangers that their daughter could potentially encounter online, and they thanked us for the help and education. However, this highlights the real issue at hand when it comes to Internet safety: parents aren’t nearly as educated and aware as they should be. Our children shouldn’t be exposed to inappropriate content when searching for innocent photos of monkeys or Justin Bieber, but the reality is that they are.
The line between the good and bad side of the Internet is too thin for parents to be disconnected from their child’s digital lives. Be sure to talk to your kids, know what sites they go to, know what they’re searching for, and make it easy for them to have a positive and safe experience online by using tools like Google SafeSearch and YouTube Safety Mode to help you.