If I wasn't already aware of the importance of Internet Safety Month, spending some time perusing my kids' Facebook accounts this weekend would have been a sobering wake-up call. (My kids are 14 and almost 12 and yes, both have Facebook accounts--monitored by me.)
The thing is, I was already very much aware of the need for parents to be tuned into exactly what their kids are doing online and with whom...and I am STILL shocked/worried/disgusted by what I saw. Because it drives home the reality that there are MANY kids online whose parents have no clue what Facebook is or why they need to be monitoring/mentoring their kids on safe/smart use of it.
So what did I see that was so horrible? In addition to the general over-sharing by these tweens ("Going to hang out at [insert specific mall or other place] with [other kids' first and last names]--do you really want your kids sharing this specific information with the world?], the rampant cursing by kids 11 and younger (yes, I'm aware that Facebook "requires" kids have to be 14 to have an account; in reality, kids put fake birthdays and set up accounts so if you're thinking "my kid isn't on Facebook" you might want to double-check that), I was shocked to see an 11 year-old girl's update "Roses are red, violets are blue ,sugar is sweet ,and so is your boyfriend in bed"....as well as one of the responses, this also from an 11 year-old girl "roses are red , daisies are white , you're boyfriends dick is outta sight."
Where the hell are the parents?! I'll tell you where: out there, with the majority of parents who think Facebook is a waste of time and a fad and see no reason to even know the first thing about it. You tell me: isn't the fact that 11 year-old girls are saying stuff like this reason enough that EVERY parent, no matter how truly stupid Facebook may or may not be, needs to be on it so they a) can serve as role models for their kids in the online social networking space and b) so they can SEE for themselves the kinds of stuff their own kids are posting and put a stop to it?
Still unconvinced? Then how about the messages in my 14 year-old's inbox--messages I was beyond relieved to see her answers to but also messages which made my blood run cold because if my daughter was a different kind of kid...well, I don't even want to think about it. What messages, you ask? Messages from guys asking to be her friend, to which she responded (an internally proud moment for me) "Do I know you?" and their responses, which made my stomach drop: "no, but your eyes are so beautiful I would love to get to know you" or some variation of that. Her responses to each of these again made me proud--flattery gets you nowhere with my daughter--"Um, I don't know you so no."
How about your teenaged--or pre-teenaged--daughter? Is she insecure about her looks and/or popularity? How would she respond to compliments from boys or friend requests from strangers who tell her she's beautiful? Do the words "pedophile" or "predator" mean anything to you?
Still think you don't need to be on Facebook?
Here's the reality: kids are using Facebook. It's not all fun and games. They need someone to guide them, tell them what's ok and what's not, what's safe and what's not...and if you have a kid, that someone is you. Period.