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One needs to be aware of the dangers lurking online, if your teenager is on social networking sites. Here are a few candid tips for online safety.
I recently came across a discussion in a closed group about whether technology needs to be introduced to teenagers and that, if a teenager demands an FB account or a phone with WhatsApp, should the parent give in. The discussion had its pluses and the minuses. But the question that looms over a parent is whether the pluses outweigh the minuses or, vice versa?
My child is four and a half plus. Thankfully, he is not a cartoon addict (because he complains that they aren’t real!) and, he is not a tablet addict (occasionally he loves the Tomcat app though). However, he is a story addict. He loves to see and listen to the stories/fairy tales and rhymes (the countless and the choicest educative videos I downloaded from the internet over the past 5 years).
The plus point is he has an amazing way of narrating stories (attention to detail is the word). The minus point is, if on some particular day I fail to keep a tab on his story time for some reason, he would keep watching the stories without heeding to his time limits. And that is not acceptable to me. I am perturbed by what I feel is his addiction. Yes, discipline is an important ingredient in building the character of a child. And, there are times when I have to keep aside my sweet cuddly mommy avatar and switch to my Cruella de Vil avatar to jolt him out of his unruliness.
However, handling toddlers is far easier than handling teenagers. Why? Toddlers are still dependent on us for many things. And importantly even at a primal level, they are aware that they are as much the world to us as much as we are to them. However, when the same toddlers grow into teenagers with time, they are slowly and steadily pulled into the labyrinth of forbidden pleasures. I won’t say that this happens with every teenager. But most teenagers at some time or the other do fall under the spell of this ‘try the untried’ list. One of which, is the drug of the virtual world.
So, the question posed by an anxious parent was – “Should we allow our wards to have their individual FB accounts or a whatsapp account?”
This is indeed a very difficult question to answer. I remember myself at that age. Around that time, the internet had just set its foot in India. And, I was learning about it on the academic side. Internet Explorer version was 4, I think. The speed was snail slow those days. It was certainly slower than the speed now. And then, there were chatrooms in Yahoo and Indiatimes!
I religiously read every section of the newspaper and political magazines, so I was well aware of the cons of the virtual world even before I got an internet connection at my place. I had read countless articles from the west on how online world was a dangerous place for children. An article I had read in the Readers Digest, somewhere between the year 1996-2000 highlighted the core issue in the west about how pedophilia was growing rampant after the onset of the online chatting and socializing. The stories I read were disturbing and scary. And so, I learnt while in school that the person you may be chatting with may not even be the dude or the hot girl you assume them to be. It may be some wicked mind behind the pic of a teenager that you assume the person to be.
Then, came Orkut. Followed by HighFive, Myspace and FB. So, coming back to the above question, what should be the answer? I guess, it is a dicey decision. I personally feel that for teenagers of today, these distractions must be best kept at bay and, I have a reason for it. They watch more than they read (Not all, most of them). So, when the reading quotient goes down, the tendency to do stupid things grows high. Even if they are aware of the cons of social networking, they continue with a mindset – of course, this cannot happen to me! But then, shit happens. And when it happens, everything in retrospect hurts. And, it hurts real bad. That said, I don’t mean that teenagers must not have an FB account. But before having a personal account, there are some questions the teenager must seek answers to:
Is my profile visible to strangers? If I do not want it to be visible on the search engine what must I do?
Go to privacy settings of your FB account. Check the settings of ‘Who can look me up’ and edit accordingly. Even you can limit the visibility of your profile pic by clicking on a world like icon on the picture and change the settings accordingly.
How do I stop strangers from sending me friend requests?
You may edit the settings – Who can send you Friend Requests accordingly.
How do I make my album private (album is visible only to your close ones)?
Click on Photos–>albums. Every album has a icon on the bottom right corner – where you have the option to limit the visibility and edit the audience accordingly.
If I happen to get an indecent post on my timeline, what do I do?
FaceBook gives you the right to report the post. If the post is inappropriate, disturbing or does not comply with its norms, the reported post is removed.
Is tagging advised?
Tagging is not advised if you want to have my opinion. Once you allow tagging, it allows your friends’ friends (who may not be your friends) to take a peek into your pics which you may not necessarily want to share with the world. Now, if you want to prevent friends from tagging you in their pics, you can check the option of Timeline and Tagging, wherein you can edit the settings accordingly. Also, disabling your timeline adds more security to your account as it restricts anyone from posting anything on your timeline. To a great extent, this feature protects your account from posts containing viruses.
What do I need to share about myself?
Share limited information about yourself. And even if you feel compelled to write about yourself, limit the settings to either Only me or customised friend list that comes within your circle of trust. Besides, password that you create must be a combination of alphabet, numbers and alphanumeric characters that only you can possibly remember.
How can FB be a help to me in the field of academics?
You may search for the group/topic. Go through every group. Whichever feels genuine to you, you can join that particular group. Also, be a silent listener initially. This way, you get to learn more without giving away yourself.
What if I feel like accepting or sending a friend request from or to a person I do not personally?
Let the feeling remain a feeling without turning into an action. Never ever accept/send a friend request to someone you do not know on a personal level. But if you do, there is a chance that you might be pleasantly surprised. But then there is an equally good chance that you might get a rude shock. Why take a gamble on your happiness? Because, one miss in the judgment of people in social networking can lead to disastrous results. Play safe is all I would say.
Lastly, ask yourself – Do I need an FB account now?
You might answer with an affirmative. But if you do, please go through the above questions to ensure your own security. Remember, there is always a thin line that differentiates the good and the bad. Also for a teenager, social networking is like walking on a tight rope. Only that, he or she does not realize it unless the fall happens.
So, a word of caution for all the teenagers:
Internet is a boon. Make the best of it for learning purposes. The moment you use it for anything but learning, mark my words my friend – you will be ruining your mind without knowing it. Because, you never realize when the addiction begins. It is like a parasite that first uses you as a host. And when it is done, you are way ahead in the path of self destruction. So, be wise in choosing your circles and have a safe social networking. Godspeed!
P.S: And, a note for parents of today – Do not answer your teenagers with a negation without understanding their age. They may not like a NO for an answer. Yet, you may want to clear the air on the social networking by first making them aware of the dangers of social networking. Make them read articles on how things have gone awry for the many of their age because they overlooked the reason for caution. And, importantly let them know that you trust them and that, trust has to be mutual. Hope, this helps!
Published earlier here.
Image source: online safety by Shutterstock.
A software engineer in the past, a content writer, an amateur blogger, an avid reader
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