There’s an excellent article on Gizmodo today by Ashley Feinberg titled “Why California’s New Web-Wide Delete Button For Teens Won’t Work. In short, it gives two good reasons why a mandatory Internet-wide “erase” button for the internet as a mechanism to keep minors protected from bullying and other ills can’t be successful.
First, as Feinberg points out, not all sites are California’s to regulate, making compliance essentially impossible to demand. Second, and most important to the everyday user with connection to minors’ concerns, this same “protective” measure can also allow minors using bullying or abusive language to cover their tracks. Bullying without leaving a paper trail, as it were.
There is no perfect system for regulating the behavior of others, underage or not. There are, however, some steps you can take to keep your minor safer:
- Most social media sites limit profile creation to those above age 13 to avoid having to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Stand by that limitation and do not allow or assist your pre-teen in creating a social media profile. It will give you and her time to create household social media ground rules.
- The FTC has a great publication called Talking with your kids about being online. Get it here. It deals more with predators than bullies, but I highly recommend checking it out before allowing your son or daughter online unattended.
- Create her first profile page together. It doesn’t mean she won’t change it later, but it means you and she will both know the potential for what can be there–and that can help guide the discussions you may need to have later.
- Make keeping you on her friends list until a certain age a prerequisite of starting a profile. That way you can monitor new friendships and relationships, sensitive photos and the like. It has the potential to feel and be intrusive, so make sure you’re only stepping in when something genuinely concerning occurs–and make sure to handle it offline. No need to embarrass your kids unnecessarily.
- If you do find someone is imitating your child online, or is imitating someone else to deceive your child, handle it through the social media service. DO NOT “give them a taste of their own medicine” or the like. Many schools now have staff monitoring for social-media based problems, so you may have recourse there, as well.
Finally, remember that the benefits of having a digital-savvy kid far outweigh the possible negatives. Work with your child to help them understand those negative possibilities and what they can do to lessen their impact, rather than cutting your child off from the Internet completely.