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Facebook: Social Networking Gone Wrong?
When I was a teenager, gathering a large group of people for a party depended on word of mouth. And so powerful was this method of communication, that one of my closest friends ended up having her family’s million-dollar house ransacked by several rowdy uninvited ‘guests’ at what became ‘the’ party of the year. Today there’s Facebook and violent ‘water fights’ at Hyde and Holland Parks.
 guinevere   31 Jul 2008 22:42
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According to reports, the water pistol fight at Hyde Park was organized via a Facebook posting that attracted 300 responses. And those are just the kids who bothered to respond. On July 30th a ‘good-natured’ event turned very ugly when a girl poured a drink over a boy who wasn’t amused. He pursued her and hit her in the face hard enough to knock her off her feet. What ensued included nine arrests after ‘gangs’ of youths with knives ran about threatening people and also causing three young children at a riding school to be thrown from their horses and then carted off to hospital with suspected broken bones and concussions. A man was shot with a stun gun after threatening an officer with a vicious dog. An area of the park was cordoned off by police in the early evening. Quite a hubbub.

At my friend’s party in high school, a carpet was ruined and needed replacing, a hole was put in a wall, and a pool table needed to be re-felted. And a few miscellaneous bits and pieces were broken. The police came by to issue warnings about noise and the size of the gathering. Apart from a few minor disagreements and several broken and mended hearts… that was it. But then, the social networking tool that is Facebook didn’t exist back then.

Parents have a huge responsibility to give their children the best possible advantage in life by caring for them and teaching them as much as they can. The aim is to send them out into the world armed with as much knowledge as possible so that they can contribute to society. Since Facebook arrived on the scene, countless articles have been written about children ‘befriending’ strangers, teenagers posting inappropriate pictures of one another, and people of all ages not realizing that there are easy to access and enact privacy settings. Adults are expected to make themselves aware: ignorance is no excuse. Teenagers and children need their parents to look out for them and also teach them how to look out for themselves.

My mother grew up without cars or computers. I grew up with computer lessons on a single, massive IBM running DOS in my classroom when I was 12; high school typing class on electric typewriters when I was 14; saving my first text document to a portable floppy disc when I was 15; and my first computer – a Mackintosh Classic hand-me-down - when I was in university at the age of 23. I learned how to use the internet during my first year at university on the school’s computers. ‘These days’ (geez: what am I, 90 years old?) kids often have their own computers in their rooms. I had an electric typewriter in the study when I was a kid, but that’s a different story because all I could do was write stories or reports on it. A computer with internet access is a portal to a whole world of knowledge, images, ideas etc.

Just as I was limited to 1 hour of television a day when I was growing up, so many children are today limited to daily ‘computer time’. Perhaps it’s a combination of misinformation and lack of imagination, but many parents do not set parental controls on their computers leaving their children open to all kinds of possible injury. It’s like sending your kid out ice skating or cycling without a helmet; sending them across the road without teaching them to watch out for cars; not bothering to tell them not to accept candy from strangers. All children need boundaries and computer use is no exception. They need to understand that there is content that is not suitable for their malleable little minds. They need to understand how information is transferred online and what privacy settings are. They will figure a lot of this out for themselves, but that is no excuse for parents not knowing this themselves and teaching their children what is acceptable and what is potentially dangerous.

I didn’t go to my friend’s high school party. I didn’t go because I had a strict mother who wouldn’t have let me stay out that late – or wear make-up thus relegating me to virtual social outcast. I didn’t go because my Mum always checked with my friend’s parents if I said I was going to ‘sleep over’, so I had no way of sneaking out to the party. I also didn’t go because I didn’t drink and didn’t want to. I didn’t go because I didn’t want to be present for the incidents I heard described on Monday mornings in the school halls: drunken rages, drunken falls resulting in broken bones, drunk driving, accidental drunken sexual encounters… I didn’t go because I had the information I needed to make an informed decision. Despite all of this, I also didn’t go because I’d recently been out with a bunch of friends who were drinking – as I stood by, cool, and smoking – that had a row and then before we knew what was happening, someone had put a hammer through the back window of someone’s car as they drove, screeching, and drunk into the night.

There’s only so much a parent can do to protect their child. The rest is up to the child. But surely less people would have shown up for the water pistol fights if they’d realized what the consequences might be of such a public posting for an event with no real organization? But, maybe they would have, and we adults just have to come to terms with the ability of young people being able to communicate ‘these days’ on such a vast scale and find new ways to act accordingly and try to keep them informed and safe... and, ideally, out of prison.
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