If you are like most parents, you think your children spend too much time on the computer. What they are doing online concerns you, as it would any parent. You have surely heard of MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook and may even have a profile on one or all of these social networking sites. Maybe you are a fan, maybe not. The benefit of these sites is enormous – they are a great way to connect to people and exchange information. That much we know. But is that all your children are doing?
A Substitute for Live Communication
Let’s start with the obvious aspect of social networking. It may be a good way to communicate, but it is certainly not a natural one. It is no substitute for meeting people live. Social networking cannot replace going hiking with a group of friends or playing a soccer game. You could accuse me of being old-fashioned. You may be right. What IS a fact is that social phobias and problems related to social anxiety have increased exponentially since these sites became so popular. Maybe it is just a coincidence. At any rate, chatting to people on Facebook is not equivalent to real human interaction.
When I was in high school (which was ages ago, obviously, I mean, ICQ was in), I was talking to this girl, and we were laughing and joking, and she gasped and said, “Hahaha LOL” with a little snorting laugh. We had another good laugh at that and decided she was a nerd. Well, the virus has spread.
What You Should Be Worried About
I am not going to make the issue of pedophiles and child molesters stalking your kids online part of this post. First of all, because you have already thought of it. Second of all, the Andrei Chikatilo types lurking at train stations have claimed a much higher body count than any Internet stalker, at least so far.
A more relevant concern involves fraud and identity theft. Since people are obligated to provide certain details like their e-mail and location when signing up, this gives ample opportunities for identity theft and related crimes. Someone could pretend to be someone else, whom your kids may know or believe to know (a friend of a friend of a friend on MySpace…) and trick them out of their cash, be it their petty allowance or more if you have given them access to a credit card. If they have not seen a person face to face, they have no way of knowing who they really are.
Finally, a few words about IAD. The Internet Addiction Disorder is on its way to being ranked up there with substance abuse and gambling addiction. It is a major disorder and has a profoundly negative impact on one’s life. Roughly 5-10% of the world population suffers from IAD according to data of the Computer Addiction Study Center at Harvard University’s McLean Hospital. The majority are teenagers. You will know problematic use when you see it, that is, if your child starts off the day by logging on and goes to bed after logging off.