There certainly is no lack of programs available that permit you to monitor what your children do online. But is parental monitoring effective? Is it an invasion of childrens’ (legitimate) need for private interactions with their friends? Is it effective? Does it prevent cyberbullying? 



 

 


 


 


There certainly is no lack of programs available that permit you to monitor what your children do online. But is parental monitoring effective? Is it an invasion of childrens’ (legitimate) need for private interactions with their friends? Is it effective? Does it prevent cyberbullying? 


Actually, parents should monitor their kids on social networking sites (and elsewhere), but not for the reason most people think. Monitoring is usually presented as a situation where parents are "spying" on their kids' private communications in order to catch them doing something risky or bad. Some experts even recommend that parents not tell their child that they're being monitored.


But there are a few problems with this approach. First, spying on a child’s private messages, without telling them, is a real betrayal of the trust that’s an important part of your relationship with your child. Most children don’t do particularly risky or “bad” things online anyway. 


But there is another way to use monitoring.  Although it’s not a good “gotcha” tool, it is a really useful tool for teaching children that what they do on a social networking site is never, ever private - no matter what your settings are.  If you grant access to hundreds of "friends" (and often "friends of friends," too), then nothing you do on those sites is private and confidential. Anything on a social networking site (even a “private” message) can be copied and displayed to, and by, other users. 


What does this have to do with monitoring? Being online can feel deceptively private, even when it's not. It can be hard for kids to believe that what they write or post could actually come back at them. However, we still want them to get into the habit of pausing before they post and asking themselves, "I'm posting this in a public place. Am I OK if everyone sees it?" Monitoring is one way to help kids develop that habit. If they know that their parents are going to see what they post or write, then they will get into the habit of being careful. 


So monitoring should be done openly, and kids should know - and be reminded - that what they type on a social networking site is not private, starting with Mom and Dad seeing it. It should never be done sneakily. If any child objects to parents reading their private messages, they should be reminded that Facebook is not the place to type private messages. Private messages should be sent through other means. When you want to speak privately with a friend, you can even call them on the phone. What a thought!    


Visit www.elizabethenglander.com for free downloads and help. 


Dr. Elizabeth Englander is the director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University. Do you have situations or questions you’d like addressed? Email them to bullyingbb@gmail.com.