Guidance regarding a tween's internet usage
February 11, 2012 1:08 AM   Subscribe

I am seeking ideas on guidelines for internet usage and privacy for a 12-year-old girl. She is pretty internet-savvy but not publicly sharing info yet (just email), and I'd like to guide her well as she begins to do so.

I am looking for guidance regarding my 12-year-old daughter's use of the internet. I wish to avoid any major problems, and safeguard her from trouble, to a reasonable extent without unduly invading her privacy. After reading the recent thread on the blue, I want to make it clear I think she should have a safe space to express herself, even dissatisfaction with me and her father. Given that I know her passwords, and she keeps cookies and saved passwords on my computer, here are some ways I have thought about dealing with this:

1. Keep a close eye on her, don't tell her to change her password, obsessively check every email (I really don't see myself doing this).

2. Glance at her email when it comes up as I'm switching gmail accounts, just eyeing for troublesome subject lines, which I haven't found any of so far but I'm not really looking.

3. Teach her about deleting cookies, saved passwords (and choosing not to save them in the first place), and (if I want to get super-serious), truecrypt (I have this installed).

4. Don't look at all, and don't worry, just trust her as she seems emotionally healthy and not distraught over any social issues with friends. Keep an eye on these things in case they change.

5. Tell her to change her password to something I don't know and would never ever guess (scares me though that if something truly tragic happens one day, I wouldn't have the tools to see what might have contributed to a catastrophic situation, i.e., bullying. Yes this is me imagining a worst-case scenario, I am good at that.)

6. Just a lesson in data security on shared computers, let her do what she wants once she knows I can see - in other words, let her exercise the responsibility, and choose her actions based on how private she wants to be (this will also teach her how to keep things secret on her laptop, which her dad has access to. I don't know that he pries, but who knows, he might someday?).

7. Help her establish a benign / laudable internet presence under her real name that shows nothing embarrassing at all that prospective employers, friends, or romantic partners would find objectionable, or is at least scrubbable (as in she controls the domain forevermore). I am thinking of things such as the minecraft videos she has been frapsing and has yet to edit / upload. We can delete them later if she gets embarrassed by her work during this period. She likes to write stories and such, she might be really happy to post these where people could see them.

8. Other strategies / ideas I haven't thought of?

She doesn't reveal her real name anywhere that I know of, except that her gmail address includes her first name, which is a traditional but somewhat uncommon name. I have taught her about the importance of using pseudonyms (she already has one she uses). I didn't use a pseudonym when I wrote some... uh let's put it charitably, "questionable" things on the immortal internets over a decade ago under my own name, and I am regretful but saved by dint of being far less googlable than many many people with my same name (I'm not in the first 200 google results that I have checked). Her full name is quite uncommon, probably even unique, so she doesn't have that luxury and must tread more carefully from the get-go. Ideally I would like her to learn from my mistakes, if possible.

If she does go for facebook in any serious way (under her pseudonym, at least for now), I would join again and friend her even though I hate facebook. Something about facebook seems to make people a bit looser in their sharing, sometimes with problematic results. Her email to date doesn't concern me like that, though.

When she plays MMOs, such as World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic, she is perfectly capable of playing and chatting with strangers with no issues. The only times she does this, though, I am like six feet away from her. She has some privacy when she visits me, but I can just come up and look at her screen at any time, which she knows. She skypes with her friends (one of whom is a boy) when she plays minecraft sometimes. This all seems very friendly and not tense or problematic at all. She can be a bit bossy sometimes, which I tell her to lighten up about, but she's not losing friends over it or angsty about problems or anything.

I just am not sure of the best way to approach this. I am pretty hands-off as long as I know that she is happy and healthy (and for now she isn't even interested in boys, really). I know that at her age, I would have been very attention-seeking and not had the wisdom to know how much sharing was too much. Any ideas on how to guide her about such things? She's really on the cusp of it, I think. Maybe if I just make an effort to ask her periodically if she has met any new friends online, and what are they like, what she has told them about herself, etc, would be a good idea to just stay on top of things.

Any good advice going forward? Good ways to say things to guide her so she doesn't embarrass herself, or at least does so in a safe / deletable way? Have you come up with good guidance for your tweens and above regarding the internet? Perhaps some ideas for safe expression of their creativity and so forth? I am willing and capable of getting a domain for her, and creating web pages for her and teaching her how to do them herself, eventually.

Complication: I am the non-custodial parent, and I get to see her on Friday evenings and Saturday during the day. When she's with me it's largely fun time, i.e. videogame time. Sometimes she has to do homework, though. Any larger strategy regarding her internet usage is something I plan to go over with her father (we are on very amicable terms), but we haven't specifically addressed it yet.
posted by marble to Human Relations (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I saw an idea somewhere (metafilter?) requiring passwords be written down, but kept in a ceramic piggybank which would need to be broken for the passwords to be accessed by you. That way you'd have access if necessary, but would also provide your daughter with some surety of privacy. I thought it was a neat idea. Obviously you could put a keylogger on your system or something, but the idea seemed more about the social contract involved than creating technically perfect solution.
posted by pseudonick at 1:39 AM on February 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

There's no winning on some of this. Facebook, I believe, no longer allows pseudonyms. You can insist on being her friend on facebook, until she figures out how to set up another account you know nothing about.

I'm not sure a 12 year old has a right to that kind of privacy -- ie. That you shouldn't have her passwords. Afterall, what she does on line isn't private. On the other hand, you don't want to push her to learn to become more sneaky.

You want to go in and set the privacy restrictions and recheck them every few weeks (since the policies seem to change often).

We just had a problem with some other kid writing something assholish and explicit on our kid's wall. We made her delete it and she was subjected to a couple of lectures. This was my two cents: 1) what I want you to know is, that guys who treat women badly are not strangers calling you over from the other side of a chainlink fence. They're going to be from among your friends. And its going to be really disappointing. There are also, among your friends, guys who treat women awesome.
2) I'm willing to allow a slim margin of possibility that this kid was joking (your father is not), that he was in some way making a comment about "guys who say that sort of thing". Here's the problem with that. You can't make that kind of joke in public. You think, when you're on facebook, that you're in a room with your friends with the door closed. You're not. You're on the corner of the street with a megaphone. You deleted that comment -- but it still exists on the internet. And you're only ever one screenshot away from it going around your school.

If you can't tell that kid not to put shit like that on your wall, then he's not your friend. And I don't mean '"he's not a good friend" I mean he shouldn't be in your facebook universe.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:45 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask your daughter for password retrieval information for important accounts. This way, you have an override key which lets you access her accounts in case of an emergency, but it's something with a clear trail where she knows you have accessed her accounts. This gives you the same idea as the piggy bank, but it also ensures you won't be locked out due to the password having been changed in the meantime, whether intentionally or required by password expiration. You also get the upside of having the ability to stand in the way of the account if something is going on and say "We need to talk about this" rather than being brushed off without any substantial discussion over the matter.

Do teach her how to be tech savvy. Even the most well intentioned person can hand out the wrong info to the wrong people with one good phishing attempt. Open communication and trust where she knows you're not going to pry without reason and you aren't going to do it behind her back will help you a lot more than a technological edge. Using tech based solutions recklessly will only breed mistrust, resentment, and greater efforts to hide everything regardless of how innocent or dubious it may be.
posted by Saydur at 4:17 AM on February 11, 2012

At thirteen i had early internet. my parents had no idea what I was getting into and didn't even know how to ask. I am so glad uploading photos was too much of a pain in the ass in 1995.

Having her passwords for emergencies is a good idea, but making it a general rule that if possible, you're going to have her open up her email and sit with you while you look if there is ever a reason. With facebook, explaining that you need to be able to see all of her feed, but promising not to comment (and/or embarrass her) is a decent compromise.

Introducing her to the way-back machine, showing her and really pushing that "once on the internet, always on the internet" and showing her how creepy it can be seems to be the most important. Showing her screenshot websites that look for embarrassing content and talking about how people break confidences (I'm trying to think of less skeezy example than Anthony Wiener and failing here) so that she understands that it's not you being paranoid and so she understands the logic behind content rules.
posted by Blisterlips at 5:23 AM on February 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

oh god. just disable any web cams when you're not around.
posted by Blisterlips at 5:25 AM on February 11, 2012

Tell her to behave as though any photos or words she puts online will be there forever. The photos would be the main thing at her age, but as she gets more mature she might need to know about the value of using a pseudonym. I used Livejournal, and even in my early 20s the friendly atmosphere of social sites like that makes it easy to forget that you aren't just chatting with friends but potentially putting stuff out there for everyone to see.

Also, based on seeing my teen nephews on Facebook - romantic arguments are probably a good example of this. Not dignfied at the time, embarrassing later. Openbook would be a good website to show her things like this. She might not be dating yet, but she might argue 'publically' with friends.
posted by mippy at 6:27 AM on February 11, 2012

Complication: I am the non-custodial parent, and I get to see her on Friday evenings and Saturday during the day. When she's with me it's largely fun time, i.e. videogame time.

You can't do much about her online presence the other six nights of the week; her father is going to be more important in this regard. Keep an eye on her, wait to see whether she ever changes her passwords, and watch for signs (mood changes, quick screen hiding, etc.) that things may (or may not) be going the way you want them to go. Remind her about the most important stuff (be wary of strangers, don't hand out your real address, no real-world meetups with people she knows only through the net unless you get to go with her, and never ever ever give racy pictures to anyone even if he's her one and only life-long love and future husband). Let her know she can always stop, that it's never too late to back out of anything she has been talked into, and that you would feel happy and honored if she came to you every time she didn't know what to do about something.

One of the most important things you could teach her about the net is how to walk away from it. Do things together offline. Try to change your situation to something more like "When she's with me it's largely fun time, i.e. outdoors time, old movies time, going to concerts time, time for visiting friends, time for talking about school and romance and life." And though you might not want her to hide away and read by herself the whole time she's with you, it would be very cool if you could both read the same books at the same time during the week and have something else to talk about when she comes over every Friday. Let her pick a book (maybe with your help), buy two copies, and keep in touch during the week to make sure you're both reading it. If it's something she has to read for school, you'll be encouraging her to do her reading and you'll be ready to coach her with related homework.

When she looks back on her teen years, she will remember the things you two did together, not the umpteenth Minecraft session.
posted by pracowity at 6:50 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my kids were younger I had a keylogger installed on the computer they used. I suppose it had a little bit to do with what they were doing, or just in case they started chatting with a pervert, but mostly it was to stay on top of the constantly changing privacy settings on myspace & then facebook (& now google). At 10, 12, even 14 they couldn't be expected to regularly go in and check/reset their privacy settings or even to understand what different privacy settings meant.

Facebook is unavoidable right now. My son learns of theater auditions, snow days, etc. only through facebook, not email or text ... he closed his fb account for most of last semester and was weirdly out of the loop for both social and school-related events. It may not be facebook in a few years when your daughter is in high school, but it will be social media of one kind or another, and I think it's important for parents to keep kids from becoming commodities for as long as possible.

My kids knew that nothing they did online was private. No computers in bedrooms, no clearing the cache, assuming I could read anything they wrote. But it was never a "punishment" or a scare tactic or anything negative, it was just the way we did things. My internet use was also public.

I would definitely have her change her passwords regularly. Remember that you are not only protecting her when she is young, you are also teaching her the habits she'll take with her when she's grown.

My kids have 3 email addresses: one is their personal email (which they never use ... facebook is their default email of choice), one is a junk email for amazon, itunes, etc. purchases (that's where all the spam goes), and the third is issued through their school.

Definitely keep talking with her dad about safe/sensible screen-time. It's important that you are on the same page and the rules will change all the time, as she grows up and with each new tech development. Kids are savvy and will take advantage if the rules are less strict at one parent's house than the other's.

When she's with me it's largely fun time, i.e. videogame time.

It could also be boardgame time, or tennis time, or toenail-painting time, or other nonscreen time.
posted by headnsouth at 7:09 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Don't look at all, and don't worry, just trust her as she seems emotionally healthy and not distraught over any social issues with friends. Keep an eye on these things in case they change."

Just FYI, the kids who are in anguish are BEING bullied; the cyber-bullies are not usually showing stress but can get expelled (and, increasingly, prosecuted) for that sort of behavior. I don't have teenagers, but I expel teenagers, and I don't think waiting for them to show stress at home is a good strategy for telling that all is well on the internet. We've had some "good kids" who showed no signs get into ENORMOUS trouble over their cyber-bullying. Sometimes good kids, or kids who are traditional targets, realize cyber-bullying is a way to strike at those they dislike from arm's length, without the social risk of doing it in person. It can quickly end up in problematic territory. (That said, I don't know the right way for parents to handle it -- but I have not seen ignoring it and hoping for the best be a terribly successful strategy.)

Most of my friends who have teenagers, the teens are facebook friends with their aunts and uncles, older cousins, adults they babysit for, close friends of their parents -- this seems to dampen down some of the worst facebook behavior. They CAN use private messages or limited posts, of course, but they can't just post thoughtlessly and they're more aware of what others are posting on their walls and so on because there's an adult presence. There's also then a "village" of adults who are loosely following their exploits and may notice when there's trouble (online or emotional). (One night at 2 a.m. I was surfing facebook while breastfeeding the baby, and I happened to see my friend's daughter post WAY TOO MUCH BOOB so I texted her immediately and the picture was down within 15 minutes. She told me the next day that I and another friend both texted her at the same minute about it so her phone was going crazy and woke her up.) All of my friends' kids who are on facebook are required to be friends with their parents. The adults mostly do not post on the kids' pages or statuses except to say "congrats" or "happy birthday"; I think if the adults were overinvolved in the kids' FB, that would be hard/weird, but just being observers is okay.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best way, I feel, to approach this is to let her know, it doesn't matter how many people are giving their real name. Always pick a unique cyber name, that you, as the parent, also know about and let that be her online identity. Never give out a home address or real name, so that means avoiding social networking websites such as FB or buying anything online. If she is to share pictures, she should at a minimal. Keep herself mysterious, so this way she doesn't confuse her cyber world with the real world. That's how I did it when I started using the web around her age. Every time I posted or made a website it was always under my cyber name. I remember only one time ever posting a photo of myself until college with FB. If I chatted with adults, I used my cyber name, always. The online friends I made, took a long time for them to even know my first name, let alone see a photo. You need to come with that mindset and she also needs to adopt that too, to protect herself.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 7:56 AM on February 11, 2012
NetSmartz has a lot of good information in fun videos and quizzes and real stories.
Netiquette and safety, etc.
posted by Kazimirovna at 9:07 AM on February 11, 2012

My brother has let my 11 year old niece online recently, but she is only allowed to use the computer in the main family living area, no computers in bedrooms. While no one is hovering over her watching her to see what sites she is visiting he feels that knowing that her family is around and could see would act prevent her from accessing any sites she knows they would disapprove of. He has access to all her passwords though so he can check anything he feels he has to, though I don't think he has used that yet, her mother also insisted that she was friended on Facebook. He says he just glances at the screen as he walks by and might occasionally ask questions if she's playing a new game or something to find out what she's doing but in an oh that looks interesting how did you get there, not in an OMG what are you doing way as he is trying to keep the lines of communication open about who she is talking to online.

In return he does all his computing out in the open too, using his laptop at the dining room table so he can "model" the type of openness about what he's doing that he wants her to use. He talks about why he uses a nickname online and why he doesn't give out his address etc and shows her that what he is asking her to be careful of online isn't him punishing her so much as him teaching her how things are online and that it is something everyone has to be careful about.

Hopefully the groundwork he is laying now pays off later when she's old enough to have a computer in her room.
posted by wwax at 9:25 AM on February 11, 2012

I can't offer advice from experience, as my daughter is only 5 (but I bookmarked this thread for future reference), but you may enjoy this true story of a mother in a similar situation (via The Moth podcast.)

I'm leaning towards an approach where my daughter knows I *could* know all her online activities if necessary, but she also knows that I trust her and generally wouldn't spy. And just educate her in why privacy online is important and how much less private you are online than you think. (Examples of Openbook, Facebook screenshot memes, etc.) But I know this issue will inevitably be difficult.
posted by snarfois at 2:45 AM on March 12, 2012

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