Help! My Kid is (Always) on Facebook!

Filed under: Opinions

So I'm having a leisurely chat with another mom the other night -- our kids were doing a volunteer project together --and I'm complaining about my 13-year-old spending every waking moment on Facebook. She's complaining about the same thing. But our reasons are completely different.

I worry that my son is developing a virtual social life at the expense of a real one. She's worried that someone is going to see her daughter's picture, then proceed to stalk, rape and kill her.

Turns out we're both way out there.

"Online socializing is just a reflection of real-life socializing," says Anne Collier, the expert I call with both fears. She's co-director of ConnectSafely, a nonprofit dedicated to helping parents understand the intersection between technology and kids. "The friends they hang out with online are their friends that they socialize with in real life," she says. "It's just an extension of what's going on at school."

So if my son is social on Facebook he must have a real-world social life, too?

"Yes!" Collier says. (Did I hear her eyes rolling?) The only downside, she adds, is that the sturm und drang of school gossip never ends.

Since to me that's much better than my quiet son not being part of the school gossip cycle at all, I feel my whole body relax. He's okay! He's social! But what about that other mom's fear: That her kid will be stalked, raped and killed?

This time I'm sure I heard Collier's eyes going like marbles. "There has never been a report of any child in the United States EVER being killed by somebody they met on line."

Ever? Really? So why does the chat/stalk/murder scenario seem so plausible to so many parents?

Because, Collier explains, it is the perfect mashup of our modern day fears. The Internet is new and cryptic to most parents. It's like an unfamiliar forest at night -- who knows what's in there? And why are our kids spending so much time there?

Add to this the fact that the media is constantly spewing out stories of gruesome crimes against kids -- think CSI, CNN, Nancy Grace, To Catch a Predator, Law & Order -- almost everything but Glee (so far). Creeps plus computers is a double whammy that seems more than plausible ... until you talk to someone who has actually studied the field.

David Finkelhor is the head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. In two national studies of kids, crime and social networking, he determined that predators don't flip through Facebook looking for victims any more than they'd flip through the phonebook trying to find a date. That would be a "low yield" policy, he says, and even the worst of us don't like to waste time. Instead they go to sex-oriented chat rooms, because that's where they can find more "low-hanging fruit" -- young people eager to talk to strangers about sex.

So if your kids, like mine, are online with their friends, hour after hour, try not to imagine the worst. Try to imagine yourself, on the phone after school.
Now try to remember how worried your silly parents were.

Feel better? Thought so.

Related: Are Facebook and MySpace Safer Than Chat Rooms?, Internet Safety, "Stranger Danger" Abounds For Kids On The Internet

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.