Should you cyberstalk your child?

Children as young as eight years old want to get on social networks like Instagram these days. Social networks can be a difficult beast for even adults to master, let alone children. Parents often have to deal with sulky teenagers who accuse them of not trusting their own children. Still, parents do have a responsibility to ensure that children navigate murky online waters safely. So, should they cyberstalk their kids?

How teenagers get around nosy parents

The teenage years are a particularly vulnerable time for children. During this time, they want privacy, ironically, on social networks. While parents can assert their authority by decreeing that children must have them as friends on social networks, they should keep a low profile. Otherwise, they could be relegated to a list where they can only see a limited profile of their child.

Teenagers can often outsmart parents by creating and maintaining fake Facebook profiles, so that parents think they are keeping an eye on them, when they actually have another active profile.

Children often migrate to other social networks when parents become too active on popular social networks like Facebook. That’s why Instagram and Snapchat, a service where messages disappear after a number of seconds, have gained in popularity.

“The more that parents try to control what their kids are doing online, the more sneaky kids get, and the less parents know what their kids are doing online,” says Casey M, a 17-year-old Internet safety advocate from New York.

There are practical problems, too. “It’s impossible for parents to be [online monitoring children] 24 hours a day,” says Tina Meier, a mother.

Parents need to create a ‘piggy bank of trust’

In ABC’s Jury’s Out, experts discussed whether or not parents should stalk their kids online. All but one expert thought parents should monitor their kids’ online activities and disregard any expectation of privacy so long as they live under the same roof. Sixty-eight percent parents in a GMA flash poll also shared their thoughts on the issue. They, too, believed it was okay stalk their kids on social media.

However, there are those who feel otherwise. danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, says cyberstalking kids all the time violates trust. She suggests, “everyone in the house puts their passwords in a ‘piggy bank.’ If the piggy bank gets broken, everyone knows. And the agreement is that it’s available in case of emergencies.”

For young children, there are age appropriate social networks available. Club Penguin rather than Instagram is a suitable network for an eight year old. Parents can discuss networks with children, join them together, or set a date when the child is allowed to join the social network.

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