What control should adults have over social media usage of their wards?

The suicide of a 14-year-old girl, allegedly triggered by her boyfriend’s Facebook post where he declared he would end their relationship, has parents and guardians concerned.

Several studies have found that children are potential victims of online abuse, stalking or fraud. And, Tuesday’s suicide points to a large malaise, say psychologists, who find that children are too involved in their social media avatars and experience an alienation from the real world around them. Explaining the problem, Sreedhar Murthy, professor of psychology at NMKRV, says, “Social media facilitates only superficial relationships and gives people a false sense of security about having a large virtual network.”

He says that Facebook promotes a brand of exhibitionism. “People automatically post photos of their daily activities and are under pressure to maintain a certain image virtually. Holiday destinations also become status symbols and people strive to achieve their best. Their need to be accepted and appreciated by people has increased.”

Addiction

Mr. Murthy adds that social network addicts may often become impulsive and depressed. “People also begin to compulsively lie about themselves in the virtual world and may want to live in a make-believe world; social media facilitates this. Often, it even changes the way people interact with each other in the real world.”

Parents’ fears

Experts say the incident flags off concerns about how much control adults should have over the social media usage of their wards.

Parimala P., a mother of two teenagers, says that reading about the incident made her anxious about what her children are up to online. “Parents should keep an eye on what they are doing and how much time they are spending online.”

Ritesh Chopra, country manager, India and SAARC, Norton by Symantec, says that parents and teachers need to intervene to ensure social media use by the child is restricted. “When parents can set deadlines and curfews times after attending a party, why not apply the same for social network usage?”

While experts disagree about the need to restrict children’s social media usage, cyber security experts argue that the way out is to encourage reportage of all forms of cybercrimes such as harassment, stalking and bullying. Shubhamangala Sunil, a cyber security expert, says there is a need to increase awareness about cybercrimes.

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