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Family week: social networks

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Jimmy Smallwood | 10:33 UK time, Wednesday, 8 December 2010


Should you be friends with your children on Facebook? The social networking site has more than 27.5 million users in the UK. That's almost 43% of our population. As part of 5 live's Family Week, I've been taking a look at the challenges it poses for parents.

One parent from south-west London told me that his then ten year-old had been allowed to join Facebook, but only under certain conditions: that he used it no more than 30 minutes a day and that he only connected to people he knew.

He also had to add his dad, who checks his son's profile three times a week. "We were concerned about his safety online," he told me. "He does know that I'm watching... and I want him to know too."

Based on 5 live's survey, we know you feel that the internet poses a significant threat to your children, second only to drink and drugs.

However, I've heard the opposite view too. "I wouldn't dream of being Friends [with my daughter]," a mother from Indiana, USA, told me. "There's no way."

Her overall view is that her daughter's Facebook world is her own, and that following her there would be a serious breach of privacy and trust.

"I think it goes to that umbrella or helicopter-type parenting, where you expect to have access to absolutely everything," she says.

One conclusive thing I have discovered is that parents are unclear on the best way to police their kids' use of Facebook, and protect them from its potential dangers.

I've also spoken to an American writer called Susan Maushart, whose book The Winter of our Disconnect is out over here in January.

She took her family on a six month technology detox. She argues that without her three kids surfing the net, using Facebook or competing against their friends in virtual worlds on online games, her family became a much closer and cohesive unit. Susan will be talking to Rhod Sharp on Up All Night tonight.

When I asked her specifically about Facebook, she told me, "Parents angst about their kids' media use generally. Our parental paranoia peaks around social media. We are all too aware of the risks-especially those posed by cyber-bullying and online predators. Yet most of the time we feel pretty powerless to do anything about it."

It isn't the only social networking website, but it's by far the most popular, especially for young people. A lot of sharing takes place, and the privacy settings haven't always been clear. They've changed over time, too. None of this makes it easy for any of the parents I talked to.

As one father told me, "We're the first parents who've had to deal with this. In a lot of situations, you look back to what your parents did when you were a child. This is the first time as parents when we've been in this situation. I'm sure we'll make mistakes, but we have to do what we think is right."

So, are you 'friends' with your children or parents on Facebook? Is it a good thing? And if not, why not?

Jimmy Smallwood is a researcher at BBC Radio 5 live. You can hear more about this subject on 5 live Up All Night tonight.


  • Comment number 1.

    I have 2 young daughters aged 11 and 9 who are both on facebook under my supervision. Most of their friends have accounts and we keep in touch with family members too. I go onto their pages everyday and check what is being put on there. They do not add people until they have checked with me first and i am a friend on both their accounts at their wish. As they are so young they know if they dont like my rules then their accounts are deleted. The safety of my children is the most important thing to me. If monitored properly and honesty and trush within your family is not a concern then there shouldnt be a problem. I have parental controls on the computer so time is also limited and homework comes first.

  • Comment number 2.

    No-one is interested in your family week; cept Sioux


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