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Table Talk – Conversation Starters for Parents About Facebook and Everyday Life

Last Updated: July 22, 2021

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

Using fresh news stories can be a great way for parents to spark discussions with their kids and teens about how to be a good cyber citizen. “Table Talk” is a series on Breaking Free, passing along recent headlines about Internet temptations and dangers. Use the questions provided to get your family thinking about Internet safety and responsibility.

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Addicted to Facebook and Paying the Price: 11.5% of students are “hyper-networkers”

There are many untold benefits to social networking websites like Facebook. But what are the dangers a teen faces if they become too engrossed?

Last month Case Western Reserve School of Medicine released a study entitled, “Hyper-texting and hyper-networking: A new health risk category for teens?” Overall, 20 schools participated in the study, and 4,257 questionnaires were received from students. This study defined “hyper-networking” as spending more than three hours per school day on online social networks. Using this definition, researchers concluded that 11.5% of students are hyper-networkers.

Furthermore, hyper-networkers are…

  • 56% more likely to be smokers
  • 60% more likely to report four or more sexual partners
  • 79% more likely to have tried alcohol
  • 69% more likely to be binge drinkers
  • 84% more likely to have used illicit drugs
  • 92% more likely to have been depressed
  • 94% more likely to have been in a physical fight
  • 110% more likely to have been a victim of cyberbullying
  • 120% more like to have been highly stressed
  • 146% more likely to have attempted suicide

Of course, this study does not say hyper-networking causes these behaviors, only that when a student is a hyper-networker, they are more likely than others to manifest these behaviors. How much a student uses Facebook could be an indication of engagement in other unhealthy behaviors.

Scott Frank, MD, MS, lead researcher on the study, said, when left unchecked, these widely popular methods of staying connected online “can have dangerous health effects on teenagers.”

Discussion Questions:

1. How many hours do spend on social networks? How about your friends: would you consider any of them hyper-networkers?

2. In general, when you see someone online who always seems to be on, are they more likely to be involved in risky kinds of behaviors? Why do you think that is?

Virtual Jerk: 1 in 5 students say their peers are mostly “unkind” online

Last month the Pew Internet & American Life Project published their newest report, “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites.”* The report included survey results from nearly 800 students, 12 to 17 years old.

  • 20% of teens say peers are mostly unkind to each other on social networks. 69% say peers are mostly kind, and 11% said “it depends.”
  • 88% of teens say they have seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social network site, and 12% say they see this “frequently.”
  • 15% of teens have personally experienced online harassment in the past 12 months. There are no statistically significant differences by age, gender, race, or socio-economic status.
  • 95% of social media-using teens who have witnessed cruel behavior online say they have seen others simply ignoring it, and 55% witness this frequently. 90% say they personally have ignored it.
  • 84% of social media-using teens who have witnessed cruel behavior online say they have seen people defend the person being harassed. 80% have personally defended the victim.
  • 67% of social media-using teens have witnessed others joining the harassment, and 19% say they have seen this “frequently.” 21% say they personally have joined the harassment.
  • 51% of girls who have witnessed cruelty online have sought out advice about it, as have 20% of boys.

On one hand, much of the report shows a very positive side to social networks. Pew Senior Research Specialist, Amanda Lenhart, told NPR, “We find that actually teens have a pretty good experience on social network sites. That, you know, 70% of them say people are mostly kind in their experience on social network sites.” On the other hand, the bullying that does go on is apparently very visible. The vast majority of teens have seen online cruelty taking place, and the majority have also seen online spectators either ignore it or join in.

Discussion Questions:

1. When you’ve used Facebook or other social networks, do you see any kind of online cruelty going on? What kind of cruelty?

2. Have you ever been tempted to start or join in?

3. Have you seen others stick up for others who are being harassed?

Most parents help their underage kids get on Facebook

Fortune Magazine calls danah boyd “the reigning expert on how young people use the Internet,” and for good reason. Her recent article, “Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age: Unintended Consequences of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act,’” is another example of her probing looking into the live of American teens.

Her study of over 1,000 parents found…

  • Although the minimum age for Facebook is 13, parents of 13- and 14-year-olds report, on average, their child joined Facebook at age 12.
  • Over half (55%) of parents of 12-year-olds say their child has a Facebook account. The vast majority (82%) of these parents knew when their child signed up, and most (76%) also helped their 12-year old create the account.
  • Over half (53%) of parents think Facebook has a minimum age and a over a third (35%) of these parents think that this is a recommendation and not a requirement.
  • Over three-quarters (78%) of parents think it is acceptable for their child to violate age-minimum restrictions for online services.

Why is there an age-minimum to begin with? It goes back to a federal law known as COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The law was intended to restrict the kind of data that Internet companies can collect about children without the permission of parents. As boyd points out, this law predates the rise of social media, and, like a lot of legislation about Internet communications, it has not evolved with the technology.

boyd’s data suggests parents, at large, are concerned about online privacy and safety, but in order to instructively introduce their child to being a good digital citizen, parents must either deny them access to big social media platforms or teach their children to lie in the process. “They don’t want to be told how to be a parent,” she said.

In other words, COPPA was designed to help parents protect their kids from online data-collectors, but it is so out of step with today’s norms it is actually contributing to privacy and safety concerns.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you know any kids 12 or younger on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter?

2. What do you think? Should parents encourage their under-13-year-old to lie about their age so they can benefit from online social experiences?

*Source: Amanda Lenhart, et. al, “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites,” Pew Internet & American Life Project.  November 9, 2011. Accessed: November 25, 2011.