Social Networking for Parents

Michelle and I had our first PD session (Parent Development) this morning and had about 25 parents show up! It is by far the biggest crowd I’ve ever had for one of these technology sessions. Our plan was to pick a hot-button issue to get more butts in seats and boy did it work. At one point, we didn’t have enough computers in the lab to accommodate all the parents!

We started with quote from Prof. Helen McGrath (.pdf):

Young people on the other hand see technologies (and especially the internet) as a vital part of their social life and the building of their identity. Mobile phones seem to be the key to young people’s social lives (ACMA, 2007)… (T)he most significant milestones towards adulthood are now acquiring a mobile phone and joining online social networking sites. [emphasis added]

Social networks are now a fact of life and won’t diminish until something bigger and better takes their place. As parents we have the choice to ignore it (not recommended!) or to get involved with our children’s interactions.

We then showed the awesome Common Craft video Social Networking in Plain English

I love the ideas behind this series; I wonder if we could contact Lee and ask him if he could make a ‘student-friendly’ version?

When discussing the benefits and drawbacks, the focus from parents was mainly on the negatives, including:

  • time wasting
  • devalued meaning of ‘friend’
  • online dangers
  • damage to one’s image and the idea of a digital footprint

As we have a very international population, a lot of parents recognized the benefits of staying connected to ‘home’ and to friends across the globe. This did not, however, have as a big an impact as I thought it would.

We spent some time introducing parents to Club Penguin (most had never heard of it) and going through some of the more controversial aspects of the Facebook Terms of Service. Like their children, most parents with Facebook accounts had never actually read the Terms of Service and were a bit shocked to see language such as this:

You specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”).

We ended by talking about what parents can do to help encourage discussion with their children about social networking. They included:

  • Set boundaries
  • Be interested! Ask questions, just like you do with their F2F friends.
  • Ask to be shown their profile page … tomorrow.
  • Ask to be their ‘friend’ with an understanding that you will not actively participate.
  • Remember: Most kids really do use social networks just to communicate with their friends.

I had hoped to spend some time going through specific privacy settings but we ran out of time. I will include the related links in our weekly school newsletter however.

Overall, we tried to stress that social networking sites are the cordless telephone and mall of the current generation. It’s how they communicate and  it’s where they sometimes hang out. When one parent said something about children creating Facebook accounts behind their backs, I related it back to watching R-rated movies: If she’s told her child that s/he cannot watch a certain movie, how does she know s/he won’t just go watch it at a friend’s house? What’s the difference?

Thanks to Kim Cofino and Jeff Utecht for sharing their previous experiences on this subject. It helped us a lot in preparing for our session!

I’ve embedded the slides from our presentation here. I’ve also got an hour’s worth of audio that I will try to sync up to the visuals at some point…

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