Darien discusses social media and safety
Knowing where your child is can be a constant source of stress for parents, but knowing what they are doing is even harder now as more and more kids gain access to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
In an effort to help parents better understand what their kids are doing when they are online, YWCA Parent Awareness and the Middlesex Middle School Parent Association teamed up to present a lecture on "Facebook and Social Media: What your Kids Already Know."
MMS Principal Debi Boccanfuso began the lecture by explaining how much has changed in terms of the way kids interact today as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago.
"Social media has complicated matters in ways I never could have imagined," she said. "It doesn't mean it's a bad or terrible thing. In reality my kids can do things I've never done before. However, there are aspects that are very scary from a parenting role. The role has shifted for us as parents but it still goes back to communicating with your children, and reinforcing the concepts of love and forgiveness when they mess up. It's not the end of the world if they make mistakes."
Boccanfuso turned the discussion over to a group of experts including Richard J. Colangelo Jr., senior assistant state attorney; Diane McKeever, Facebook and technology specialist, and Christina Hefele, technology/data coordinator at Darien Public Schools.
Colangelo explained some issues that arise as a result of abusing social media and how law enforcement has become more involved in prosecuting those who use it as a platform to bully or harass others.
"As parents, we have to be aware of everything we're doing and not just when our kids are around. Kids are setting up fake Facebook pages now. We're lucky because Facebook is getting more responsive about taking them down. I am having officers make arrests in those situations because it's harassment or threatening. There was a situation where two kids got into a fight and their friend recorded it. He thought it would be funny to post it on Facebook and tagged it with the names of the kids who were fighting. He also posted a couple of derogatory comments. One of the kids involved in the fight googled himself and found the video and the parent called the police. That incident ended up costing the kid who posted it $5,000 to hire an attorney," Colangelo said.
In situations where a child is using social media inappropriately, Colangelo suggested parents avoid overreacting to the situation.
"One of the big things with social media is communication," he said. "You need to prepare yourself to talk to your kids. One good thing about technology is that it has made our kids great multi-taskers. I get copies of emails that are sent and received by my kids. I don't read them all but I want to know what's going on. We have to realize if they come to us we might want to have an outrageous reaction but we should do it later or they wont talk to us. You really can't parent the Internet."
Since it can be difficult to monitor what your kids are doing online, McKeever suggested parents to set up their own Facebook accounts.
"You need to see Facebook in action in order to understand it. If you don't have an account, I suggest you get one because you actually might like it; keep an open mind about it," McKeever said.
When trying to learn more about sites such as Facebook, McKeever said the Internet is a good resource as well as the resources available in the community.
"I think having your own Facebook account is important because if you don't feel comfortable in this environment you can't really help them," she said. "You need to keep up on technology. One of the most important things we have in this community is amazing resources for training. There is no excuse for you to be computer illiterate. You may not want to do it but you have to embrace technology as much as possible."
Even though it can be difficult to monitor your child's online activity at all times, Hefele offered a few tools to make the job easier.
"Set up your child's devices and accounts for them or with them, create a list of house rules, install and configure parental controls on all devices and monitor devices periodically," she said. "Don't put these controls in place without telling your child. I do think you can have a dialogue with your child and explain you will putting these control tools in place."