Around six months ago, a 12-year-old student posted a comment comparing the nose of his classmate with a sexual organ. By the time, the 12-year-old realised his mistake, it was too late as the post had spread like wildfire among his classmates, and friends of the victim, who by then, had become the centre of jokes.
The victim suffered some very serious image issues, to the point that he actually began to believe in it. He is currently undergoing therapy. This unsavoury incident could have easily been prevented had the two kids not have access to Facebook. But as shocking as it may sound, this is not a unique case.
Nearly 73% of Indian tweens are on Facebook and other social networking sites, says a recent survey conducted by ASSOCHAM Social Development Foundation. What is more appalling is that most parents encourage kids to lie to sign up on Facebook.
The survey, which studied 4,200 parents of children between eight-13 years in major Indian metros including Mumbai, found that 82% of the parents helped their kids lie to create a profile on Facebook. This takes us to the question: why would parents help their children create a Facebook profile knowing the dangers that exist in this uncontrolled terrain?
Dr Rukhsana Ayaz, psychiatric counsellor, explains this trend, “Most parents associate Facebook and gadgets with sophisticated knowledge, which they feel is necessary for the child’s growth. Sadly, it’s always a matter of pride and accomplishment if their child knows how to operate a phone or tablet or is on Facebook.”
But what parents don’t realise is that the “Internet is a virtual world, with a false sense of control. The child could easily fall victim to other fake Facebook profiles, which may be managed by adults,” she adds. Or as detected in the above case, the child may become either a subject or an actor of social abuse, which he/she cannot control. “Parents feel they are equipping them for the future, but they are throwing them into fire,” she adds.
According to child psychiatrist, Dr Sarita Shah, access to social networking sites should be allowed, as long as it’s supervised. She, however, warns of how social networking is preventing development of any real social skills among children. “At a time when they should learn to make friends, understand human gestures and touch, they are busy chatting with their Facebook friends.
They are missing out on the social skills, which will help them excel in the real world,” she asserts. Dr Shah cites examples of parents who approach her asking why their children never step out of their rooms, and are always hooked on the computer or cell phone.
Besides, according to both experts, kids between eight-13 years are not ready to deal with situations related to unwanted content or people who surface on social platforms like Facebook. An equally worrying element to this problem, adds Dr Shah, is how parents use technology to distract children. “If a child starts throwing a tantrum, they hand over their phone or tablet. They encourage it, thinking the child is learning, which is not always the case. The need for these gadgets is created at a very young age,” she informs.
Dr Ayaaz suggests that access to Facebook should be restricted till the age of 18. “Be it tweens or teens, Facebook is having a negative effect on children. It’s affecting their real social skills resulting in image problems. They are changing their profile pictures everyday, trying new poses and clothes. There is constant pressure to look good, which only adds to the peer pressure,” she warns.
73% Indian Tweens between 8-to-13 years are active on Facebook.
82% Parents help their children lie to create a profile on Facebook.