I wrote a lengthy essay for a college writing class (later published online), but one portion I cut for publication involved when my daughter signed up for her Facebook page. I liked what I had written and felt it belonged, but publishing it would have broken the online contract my daughter and I have.
The Internet is ever-present and it is hard to keep kids away from it for long. Because of my line of work, it is impossible to ignore, and thus my daughter has always been very curious about it. Her mother still doesn’t have a computer connected to the Internet—a deliberate choice—so managing The Girl’s online life is left to me.
I found out she created a Facebook page only because she sent me a friend request. Initially I panicked. Some of my work is definitely over PG-13 in terms of content, and there is no language filter amongst my online (childless) friends. The panic came from the initial shock of finding my daughter in what I had considered a solely adult venue…but I was simply in denial.
I also realized that if I shut down her Facebook profile, I would simply just not know about the next one. So, my daughter and I made an agreement. Her privacy settings are checked constantly and set to the maximum. Her profile pictures cannot be of her. She is not allowed to share “private” things on the internet, which includes details of her family life, arguments she has with friends, or anything that might otherwise come back to haunt her.
A few weeks after she started her own blog—dedicated to saving wolves, her favorite animal—she wrote a post after learning (incorrectly) that Sarah Palin hunted wolves from helicopters. In what was clear hyperbole typical of a ten-year-old, she said that someone should shoot the former Alaskan governor. I immediately deleted it, and the online contract was renegotiated.
In fact, it has been renegotiated many times since. My daughter’s friends live out in the country and miles apart, so the Internet is a great place for them to “gather.” Thus, a rule that she could only accept friend requests from people her mother or I knew had to be altered to include her own friends. As my daughter has exhibited responsibility on the Internet, she has been given more freedom.
Navigating the Internet and having a presence on requires maturity, as does a contract. Adhering to these terms—which have to be fair—demonstrates that maturity and provides children with a clear set of terms and consequences. It also forces parents to monitor their children’s online activity, which invariably leads to parents being even more involved in their children’s lives.
How do you keep track of your children’s online activity?