In a recent video produced by Boston Children’s Museum, we explored parents’ concerns about the challenges of parenting in a fast-changing, complex world. Many of the parents expressed concern about their children’s social media usage. Of course, we want our children to be fully fluent with the technology they will have to utilize in our increasingly high-tech world, but does that include social media? While understanding that technology is a very important learning tool, we must also acknowledge the dangers of enabling our young kids to socialize online before they have practiced developing and maintaining real friendships and before they have explored their own identity and developed some resilience and maturity.
Parents are worried about their kids spending too much time on screens, feeling left out by their friends online or, even worse, being cyber-bullied. We worry that they may be enticed to grow up too fast, or take on an identity that is not their own in order to belong. We worry about their privacy and safety in a realm we cannot control. All these are issues that are very important to be aware of, to monitor, and to feel empowered to address. We need to rigorously protect our kids’ privacy and monitor their interactions on the web. Now, we also need to protect their data, which has become a very valuable commodity. Think about it – the habits of our daily lives – what we buy, what we care about, what we do with our time – are collected, analyzed, quantified and sold to eager marketers who use our information for a multitude of purposes. This is a fact of modern life that, to some extent, we have come to accept. But what about our children’s information?
In a Washington Post article of May 16th, Valerie Strauss states, “Whether you know it or not, there is a remarkable amount of personal information about children now being collected by schools and their vendors that is then shared with government agencies, for-profit companies and other entities, all without parent consent.” This information goes beyond a child’s name, address and age. It can include their test scores, health data, medical records, grades and even what they had for lunch in school. The information is often stored “in the cloud,” offering access in a realm that is very new and not carefully regulated.
Several years ago, Leonie Haimson and Rachael Stickland, raised the alarm and started the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy along with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Their important work is laid out in Strauss’s article. Their work led to the creation of the Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy, an indispensable collection of information and tips about how to ensure your child’s data privacy is protected at school.
But school isn’t the only place where our children’s information is available. In a recent Wall Street Journal Article (December 5, 2017), journalists Betsy Morris and Deepa Seetharaman discuss Messenger Kids, the new Facebook messaging app for kids 6-12. This new app is designed to give young children an “on-ramp” to social media that can be controlled by parents. The way it works is this: the app is downloaded onto a phone or tablet and kids can message their friends, send videos, hold group chats, send stickers, etc. These are sent to a list of contacts that their parents have previously approved. Facebook insists that it will not use the app for advertising and parental control is inbuilt. Furthermore, they state that they are responding to parent demand. But, considering the ubiquitous practice of collecting data on our habits, friends, and interests, Messenger Kids feels like another way that companies can track us from the cradle to the grave. And, there’s an additional concern about young children using social media. Is it healthy for them? In the Washington Post article, Dr. Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan states, “When child usage becomes prolonged and immersive it can interrupt or displace other important activities such as reading, sleep or social interactions.” She also says that, “It’s the content of messaging – the unintentional slights, insults or oversharing – that I would want parents to be able to monitor.”
As parents, we need to resist the pressure on our kids to live many hours of the day on online. We can say no, or even “not now.” As hard as it is to resist their pleas to join in with their friends, it is harder to undo the harm that may be done by hurtful, and very public, social interactions. Of course, it is up to each individual parent to find their own path and there is no road map, which is the title of our video that I hope you will enjoy watching. Please let me know what your thoughts are on this tricky topic and let’s continue the conversation!
Personal Data Is Collected On Kids At School All The Time, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, May 16, 2017
The Astonishing Amount of Data Being Collected About Your Children, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, November 12, 2015
Should 6 Year Olds Be on Social Media? Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2017
NO ROAD MAP: Parenting in a Complex World (Produced by Boston Children’s Museum, Nov, 2017)