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Discussing social media and children
[March 10, 2013]

Discussing social media and children

SOUTH BEND, Mar 10, 2013 (South Bend Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Speaking to a group of sixth-graders, technologist Kolin Hodgson once asked how many of them operate a Facebook page.

About half raised their hands.

Yet Facebook terms of use mandate users must be 13 years or older.

Still many sixth-graders, generally 11 and 12, have Facebook accounts. It's easy to see why -- all you have to do to create a page is say you're 13. The company has no way of knowing if that's the case.

"Teens are more net savvy than their parents," Hodgson told a group of parents Saturday at a seminar aimed at instructing moms and dads about social media and how it relates to their children.

One only has to look at the Manti Te'o story to know that the world of social media can be a confusing one for adults to navigate, let alone sixth-graders.

Or much more devastating stories, like that of 15-year-old Amanda Todd, who was persuaded to flash in front of a webcam as a seventh-grader and then for years was relentlessly and viciously bullied as the topless images would never go away.

Todd committed suicide last October.

Hodgson, an Internet security professional at the University of Notre Dame, spoke to parents at Indiana University South Bend as part of Parent University Workshops, a series of lectures hosted by Home Management Resources to educate parents.

Apart from his security duties at Notre Dame, Hodgson speaks to new freshman at the university and sixth-graders in the Penn-Harris-Madison school district about how to safely use social media.

In the same talk in which he polled their Facebook use, Hodgson spoke to them about sexting. He warned them that creating and distributing nude images of a minor under 18 is a federal crime, even if it is of yourself -- and that the images never go away.

"People do things to get themselves into trouble," he said.

He said parents can engage their young children in conversations about appropriate Internet use, and also set some ground rules.

He suggested parents not allow children and young teenagers to have computers in their room, asking those in attendance: Would you allow any stranger access to your child's bedroom Hodgson referenced a Pew Research Center study that said 71 percent of teenagers between 13 and 17 have received a message over the Internet from someone they do not know.

He also said parents could consider keeping all family cell phones in one location at night, or shutting off the home's wireless Internet after a certain time in the evening, which would mean both the parents and children are unplugged after a point.

Hodgson said young people tend to view what happens on the Internet as not part of real life. He said parents should stress that it is real -- even hyperreal, as a comment you make on the Internet is much more permanent than something you may say out loud.

"Never say anything online you wouldn't say in person," Hodgson said.

He also suggested that parents ask for the passwords to their children's Facebook accounts, which are overflowing with personal information.

He noted that Facebook makes money by collecting information and selling it to advertisers.

And Facebook isn't the only medium people share information -- there's Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, Tumblr and more.

Children and teenagers are growing up with this, making them much more adept than adults.

"It's going to get more and more involved," Hodgson said.

Staff writer Madeline Buckley: [email protected] 574-235-6337 ___ (c)2013 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.) Visit the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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