“The relationship between parents and teens as the teens get older is interesting,” Stevenson said. “What boundaries does the teen have? Most don’t like it when their parents want to ‘friend’ them and look over their shoulder.”
Stevenson said children are more likely to accept a monitoring service if they know parents are only notified when pre-selected or flagged language appears.
Some parents might be tempted to block social networking sites from home computers or home networks. This, Stevenson said, does not educate children about appropriate and inappropriate online behavior, and it also does not keep children from accessing those sites in other places, such as at a public library, friend’s computer, or smartphone.
Informed parenting versus snooping
Lori Getz, founder of Cyber Education Consultants, said there exists a delicate balance between children’s online privacy and their safety, and open discussions about social networking can help children remain safe.
“Setting expectations by maintaining a presence while respecting boundaries will help guide children to making the right decisions about their social networking behavior,” she said.
Children are likely to be more receptive to the application if they know parents aren’t standing over their shoulders reading every social networking communication.
“We don’t want this to be used as spyware,” he said. “The child has to know the application is running on their social networking site and has to grant permission.”
“It’s a tool that will help parents engage their children and be more involved” in their children’s online lives, Barker said. “Parents aren’t reading every post; they’re only alerted to what’s harmful, and they have the opportunity to start a dialogue if they do see things that are inappropriate.”
Barker said parents who snoop in children’s computers and on their social networking profiles have a harder time bringing up worrisome material because the parent must first explain why he or she snooped and how the information was discovered.
“[We] need to educate kids on how to handle these situations when they come up, whether it’s bullying, someone asking for personal information, what to post and not to post, etc.,” he said.
While acknowledging that parents want to protect children from harm online and off, “employing social network monitoring services to monitor your son or daughter’s Facebook account is misguided for several reasons,” wrote Christine Greenhow, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s College of Education & College of Information Studies (iSchool), in an eMail to eSchool News.
“First, while it’s true that young people face risks online, these are often the same risks that they face offline (bullying, encountering problematic content, sexual solicitation) and despite publicity surrounding unfortunate incidents, the majority of social networking teens do not experience these harmful behaviors,” she said.
Some parents may not realize how personal their child’s Facebook account is and how highly it is valued.
“Parents might cringe at the thought of installing hidden cameras in their child’s bedroom, school cafeteria, or friend’s house or eavesdropping on a cell phone conversation, but this is, in a sense, what such services advocate,” Greenhow said. “A better solution is education, not infiltration.”