Lori Getz: One of the biggest household controversies I come across (with regard to teen Internet and cell-phone use) is how to find a balance between protecting kids and giving them a modicum of privacy that may truly be deserved.
So I went on a mission and came across several terrific options. One of my favorites is Parental Guidance by GoGoStat, a new application that launches today within Facebook (just remember you got the inside scoop here). I like them so much I added them as a sponsor on my website.
While I have never been a proponent of spying on kids who don't deserved to be spied on, I am a supporter of setting expectations that help guide young people toward making appropriate decisions about their online use. Considering the numerous cases of cyberbullying and unwanted sexual solicitations that occur within social networking sites, it's no wonder parents are worried about how much access is appropriate for their children.
Parental Guidance found a middle ground. The application works like this:
1) The parent creates a Facebook account and "friends" their child(ren).
2) The parent adds the Parental Guidance application and sends a request to their child(ren) to add the application as well.
3) Once the child accepts the invitation, the application notifies the parent of status changes, new pictures, tagged photos, comments and posts that use certain language that may alert the parent to a cyberbullying incident or even a sexual solicitation.
4) The application allows for a lot of flexibility. The parent can choose from a list of rules; only when the chosen rules are broken will the parents be notified of the situation. Parents can also define their own rules, including acceptable age ranges, the posting of cell-phone numbers and other private data. NOT ALL CONVERSATIONS ARE MONITORED!
Parental Guidance is not spyware; it's a way for your kids to stay out of their own way!
In the past, I have given reasons why parents should NOT "friend" their children on Facebook, and I was always coming from the perspective of how children can trick parents into believing they are seeing it all when in fact kids can exclude their parents from seeing certain wall posts and pictures. They can even create two accounts: one for the family, and one for everyone else. But what I hadn't considered until finding Parental Guidance was how this could POSITIVELY impact the right kind of audience.
In my work, I talk to thousands of Facebook-using teens every year. For the most part, they are really good kids who don't MEAN to get into trouble. But many of them often find themselves in the midst of idle gossip, rumors and cyberbullying just because of the network of friends they are connected to. Peer pressure and the idea of anonymous exhibitionism often trumps good judgment and impulse control. When a group of a hundred seventh graders unanimously told me that the reason cyberbullying happens is because they don't think they will get caught, I realized something like Parental Guidance can help!
Teens need limitations, but at the same time, many of them deserve some privacy! The Parental Guidance application cannot be used unless both the parent and the child agree to use it. The Facebook settings will still allow kids to add their parents to a group that is excluded from seeing wall posts and pictures, so don't be fooled. Facebook settings trump Parental Guidance ... but the relationship between the parent and child trumps all!
GoGoStat Parental Guidance will give good kids an out. As my friend and colleague Marian Merritt explains it, "If your child ever receives a message from a friend that makes them uncomfortable or could draw them into a situation they do not want to be involved in, the best thing to do is to tell them not to respond to the message, and have them blame their lack of response on you or their dad. The next day at school, when the friend questions why your child did not respond, your child should simply say, 'Oh, my mom was using my computer last night. I didn't see the message.' That way, your child doesn't have to get involved -- and it lets the other person know that an adult may have seen the comment or post."
I see this software behaving the same way -- reminding kids to watch their manners, because a parent may be taking notes.