About a year ago Internet safety expert Parry Aftab was interviewed on ABC News about “Facebook addiction.” Aftab says it is easy for kids and teens to be overwhelmed by new technology and they can develop strong addictions to social network outlets, like Facebook.
Aftab cites a Seventeen Magazine poll from October 2009 where 38% of respondents said they wish online social networks didn’t even exist—that’s surprising considering the number of online teens who use Facebook approaches nearly 100%.
Like It vs. Addicted to It
Aftab rightly points out: Facebook rises to the level of “addiction” when other things are out of balance: grades suffer, no offline friendships, little to no activity away from the computer. When someone is consumed with the world of Facebook, other relationships can suffer greatly.
That being said, parents should understand merely liking Facebook is not a sign of addiction. “Kids don’t see it as a site,” Aftab notes, “they see it as life.” It is the preferred mode of communication today.
3 Ways to Strike a Balance
1. Mark boundaries. This is the place to start. State your expectations about when and how much the Internet should be used. Some parents fear marking boundaries because kids like to test and push them. But this is the point of boundaries in the first place: if our kids intuitively and habitually found a perfect balance to all the activities of life, boundaries would be unnecessary. All kids push the limits, but consistency shows them you truly care about how they spend their time.
2. Make limits. Use technology to your advantage. Even the best parents aren’t looking over their kids’ shoulders all the time. Purchase good filtering software that doesn’t just block objectionable content but allows you to control how long the Internet is used. Covenant Eyes software is perfect for busy parents.
3. Monitor progress. Parry Aftab says monitoring software can be used if things get really bad, but instead of waiting until things get bad, establish an environment of accountability in the home from a young age. This is the difference between monitoring and accountability. Monitoring says, “You’ve screwed up, so I’m watching you.” Accountability says, “I want the best for you, so I’m watching you.” The difference is one of motive. If kids notice parents closely watching them only when they’ve done something wrong, this gives the perception that closer scrutiny is a punishment. But if kids grow up in an environment where parents are highly observant of all behavior, good or bad, accountability to parents is just a part of the culture at home.
Use a good accountability software to monitor where your kids are going online and how much they’re using sites like Facebook. This helps to start good discussions between parents and kids about all aspects of Internet use, not just the stuff we’re most concerned about.