One night, my younger sister called with a problem regarding her barely 13 year old daughter, Audrey. She had seen her daughter’s half-nude pictures in her mobile phone. When she confronted her about it, my niece rationalized that she and her girl friends were just having fun and it was nothing. My sister almost broke down in tears wondering if her daughter might get into some kind of trouble because of that. She added that her daughter spends a lot of time online and who knows what she has been doing. I tried to console and assured her that I will try to help her.
Anxious for my niece, I opened my Facebook account and searched for her name. I could not believe my eyes when I saw her profile photo. It was a half-naked picture of herself. And when I checked out her friends, a few of them are wearing skimpy skirts. They seem to be having fun despite being unaware of what they had done to themselves in front of the public. Now, I am in a dilemma of whether to tell my sister what her daughter has done.
The onslaught of cyber technology has presented life-changing challenges for every parent. Its impact on the mindset of a person can be observed by the behaviours and attitudes of youngsters in Singapore these days. A recent news report from Channel News Asia reads: “More Underage Teenagers in Singapore See Casual Sex as Acceptable.” It is appalling to know that teenagers view having sex with anyone as “cool”. Carol Balhetchet, the director of youth services of the Singapore Children’s Society says that the various forms of media convey the message that it is cool to be liberated about one’s sexuality and to try it out to belong to the group.
Way back in 2007, the Fei Yue Community Services conducted a cyber wellness research on Singaporean youth to assess the levels of awareness of the youth in the safe use of internet. Cyber wellness as defined by the Cyber Wellness Task Force (CWTF), is “the positive well-being of Internet Users and a healthy cyber culture of the internet community.” The findings pointed out that Singaporean youth are not using the internet based on cyber wellness practices. Most of these teenagers, like my niece, are posting pornographic-like pictures of themselves or of others since social networking sites, such as, Facebook or My Space are permissive about the pictures they upload and the messages they publish on their accounts.
This must be a shocking reality! How do parents deal with the issue that their youngsters are flaunting themselves on social networking sites such as Facebook? Should they remain indifferent or do something such as spying on their teen’s account? Do parents have the duty to know what their children are doing online? This is a tough moral and ethical issue that Singaporean parents must deal with.
There can be two possible actions that parents can take. They can either spy or their teenager’s Facebook account or tolerate their online activities.
Reasons for parents to spy on their teenager’s Facebook account
Parents who have been alarmed by the news going around about the negative impact of online networking sites have on their teenagers have these to say:
Firstly, most teenagers do not know what they are doing and are unmindful of the possible consequences of their actions. Thus, parents have to monitor their activities so they can be guided to the right direction. In an article in Reader’s Digest, Michael Josephson, president of Character Counts, say that teenagers can harm themselves through the internet and parents are to be responsible in knowing what their children are doing online.
Moreover, sex, violence, alcohol and drug use are prevalent topics in cyberspace and on social networks based on a study by CNN.com. Teenagers are exposed to these topics that somehow they think they are already acceptable. An example to this is how Singaporean teens view casual sex. They think its cool because they hear other teenagers talk about doing it and they in turn are talking about it and are doing it to be ‘in’ the group. These teenagers usually will not admit what they have done to their parents and they will hide or deny it. So, how could parents discover it?
Reasons for parents not to spy on their teenager’s Facebook account
On the opposite side, there are parents who say that they should not spy on their teenager’s Facebook account. These are their reasons:
First of all, you need to trust your teens so they would also learn to trust you. You can open your own Facebook account but not to spy on them. Instead, you have to become a friend to them and get to know their interests and longings. But do not be offended when they ignore you for quite a time. They might just be hesitant to accept you as a “friend.” Do not also overreact to their thoughts. It is essential for you to understand them. Consequently, if you trust them they will also trust you and will open themselves to you.
Next, your teenager is an individual who needs to exercise his/her freedom to choose. As a parent, you just have to guide them but not to dictate what they should do. Just remind them of your expectations and their responsibilities. Show to them that you have confidence in their abilities and in the way you have brought them up.
Finally, you need to demonstrate that you respect your teenager’s decisions as an individual. Sooner or later, he or she will have to build his/her own family and he/she has to learn to stand firm in his/her decisions. If they commit mistakes in using the internet promiscuously, let them learn from those mistakes. Encourage them to stand up from their fall and move ahead because you are there for them when they need help.
It is undeniable that parents are also unique individuals. What may be acceptable to one may be unacceptable to the other. From these reasons of two opposing views, you will just have to choose.
So, are you going to spy on your teenager’s Facebook account? That is entirely your decision.