The answers bought me another year or two of peace-of-mind, but I can guarantee you that our 11-year-old daughter, Alicia, won’t be happy.
A good age to allow your child to set up a Facebook account is ninth grade, according to author, educator and coach Rachel Simmons, and while she said letting them have a cellphone is probably OK at any age, she strongly recommends that the phone only be able to dial 911 and the child’s parents “until at least seventh grade.”
Simmons, author of two New York Times best sellers, “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Aggression in Girls,” and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence,” was at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in mid-March for separate presentations to DSHA girls and their parents. Simmons is founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, has appeared on Oprah, is a frequent contributor to the Today show and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com.
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During her presentation to parents, Simmons explained why she doesn’t believe it’s appropriate for middle-school aged kids to be on Facebook by reminding them that technology is a privilege, not a right. Furthermore, she said children shouldn’t be allowed to use technology until they know how to use it “ethically, safely and responsibly.”
In our home, Alicia, a sixth grader, has been pleading, begging, conniving for months to have her own cellphone and to be allowed to have a Facebook account. We’ve heard all the usual pleas, “Everyone has one,” “I’ll let you see it whenever you want,” and “you can have my password.”
We’ve been reluctant to give in, and now that I’ve heard this national expert on teenage girls affirm my misgivings about social media for her age group, it’s unlikely we’ll bend any time soon. (Sorry, Alicia!)
In her presentation, Simmons’ caution against technology for middle schoolers stemmed from her knowledge of cyber bullying and the drama and stress it brings to adolescent lives. Yet, there’s another reason for parents to be cautious with technology and their children, as Maryann Bouche reports in our feature on Pages 6 and 7 “Keep your kids safe online” this month.
While a wonderful source of information, the Internet also can be a dangerous place for young people. While researching her story, Bouche spoke with Eric Szatkowski, special agent with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, currently assigned to the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
He’s earned a reputation as one of the top officers in the nation in apprehending sexual predators of children who use the Internet and/or cellphones to seduce or exploit children and he has been responsible for the arrest of approximately 150 men from Wisconsin and around the country, about half of whom traveled various distances to have sex with what they believed to be an underage boy or girl.
He stressed that parents must teach their children to use technology responsibly and wisely and they must continually monitor their children’s computer and phone usage. Advances in technology have added parenting challenges our own parents may never have dreamed of. That makes it all the more important to stay involved in your children’s lives and know with whom they are communicating.
Our feature, on Pages 6 and 7, includes practical advice for parents as they monitor the online usage of their children. Also listed are several online resources offering security software and tips on Internet safety, computers and cellphones.
In conjunction with Child Abuse Prevention Month, observed in April, the Milwaukee Archdiocese has set aside April 3-9 as Safe Environment Week. For details on a special Mass celebrated by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki in honor of the week, a radio program and a poster contest for youth, see Page 5.
Wishing you and yours a Blessed Easter!