As a mother of a young pre-teen boy, I’m finding we are now adjusting Internet rules on a much more frequent basis. Up until this year his ISP e-mail account was checked only on my computer. Actually I would check his e-mail, delete all the spam and then let him use my computer to read any remaining e-mail and write his own notes to family and friends. Then he asks me if he can have a Gmail or Hotmail account. I gave it some thought and agreed to Gmail so long as he wrote down his username and password in a little book on my desk, and also agreed that I could log in at any time. Not a problem. Same rules with MSN Messenger.
Then he sees both his father and myself using FaceBook, and he also has a couple friends on there. The next question is “Can I sign up on Facebook”? I’ve never thought that any social networking Internet space was suitable for a child. After some thought (and lots of bugging from him) I gave in and gave the okay to create an account. I find it very easy to monitor his Facebook activities, without needing to even access his account. Once he and I were Facebook friends I was then able to track all the people he added as friends, see which events and groups he joined, see what photos he used, and so on. Not bad actually. So far he has only joined one group I considered inappropriate. I got the notification about him joining this group, checked it out, then simply told him it wasn’t something he should have joined. He left the group and all is well, so far.
Like with all Internet services I still require my child to be willing to hand over his username and password and he knows upfront that at any point I can log in to see what he has been up to. It also helps that the computer room is a family room, and I just have to swivel my chair around or look over my shoulder to actually see what he is doing online. When it comes to being a parent in this day and Internet age, you have to keep it in check and you have to monitor what your kid is doing online. You need to set rules and stick to them (e.g. no private passwords, no adding people you do not know offline, and so on). As the parent you yourself also have to use these sites and services. I would no more let my child wander alone in a huge city than I would wander unattended in cyberspace.