Anyone who has endured the stress of selling a property will be familiar with the practice of the ‘open home’, whereby you allow someone you barely know (a real estate agent) to display your property, possessions, and privacy to other people you don’t know at all! When you return to your home, you have no idea of who has visited, which closet or draws they went into, or their true intentions regarding their visit.
The same goes for social media: an unprotected page or account without any appropriate privacy settings (or monitored access for the young ones) is akin to telling the great wide world “help yourself”.
I recently conducted a ‘sweep’ of the rules regarding various social media applications, having noticed younger and younger people accessing social media platforms at whim.
It turns out that 13 and 16 and 18 are key age markers for social media subscribers – and almost every parent I spoke to about this issue wasn’t even aware that age-access limits existed.
Legally, parents in New Zealand are not allowed to leave their children home alone until age 14 owing to risk, yet many children are happily left alone within cyberspace by parents and caregivers, digitally abandoned to face a myriad of risks on their own.
I’ve visited a few open homes, but I have never attended one in which a child was left unattended. It just wouldn’t make sense. Similarly, parents allowing children unfettered access to social media, absent of privacy and search filters, parental settings and supervision doesn’t make sense either.
Our children can have a tough enough time standing up for themselves when a confrontation is 1:1, but when the odds are 10:1, or 100;1, or 1000:1, and when your enemy is an avatar, then it is perhaps understandable why cyber-bullying and social media-induced suicide is becoming more noticeable of late.
As parents, we are not charged with the responsibility of being popular with our children, but rather for being effective for our children.
Setting some rules and boundaries with our children around the use of social media (including our own use, come to think of it) can be awkward, fraught, and draining.
However, if doing so mitigates a child’s risk profile for online bullying, then as a parent myself, I would pick ‘awkward, fraught, and draining’ over the potential alternative.
Steve is the Director of Relationship Matters Ltd. He holds two applied Bachelor's degrees (Counselling & Addiction) and a P.G. Dip. in Applied Social Practice. Steve is married with two children and lives in West Auckland.