BRAZIL: Children and Social Media – A Risky Relationship

BRAZIL: Children and Social Media – A Risky Relationship

3975852051_997e28826a_zImagine the scene: an eight year old girl with a Facebook account – allowed for by her parents. I will call her Maria. Maria’s parents both work full time and after school she stays at home with the maid. She has full access to the computer and knows how to navigate the Internet quite well.

Several hundred kilometers away, a grown man creates a fake Facebook account using childhood photographs of a famous teenage singer. He contacts Maria and she accepts him as her online friend. They chat. At one point he says he loves going to the beach and sends her a picture of the singer, when around age eight, at the beach. “I also love going to the beach!” she says and, when prompted, sends him a picture of herself at the beach wearing a bikini.

The friendship progresses over several days. Maria is happy because she and the cute boy seem to have a lot in common. One day he asks for her phone number. He says his birthday is coming up and he wants to invite her. Using a child’s voice, he talks to her briefly and then asks if she can talk to his father. The “father” says the “birthday” will be a lot of fun: he will pick her up at school and take them to the mall, to the movies, for ice cream and other fun things.

He also tells her not to worry about talking to her parents. He will call them later and they will work everything out.

The day of the “birthday” arrives. The man gets to Maria’s school and tells the porter he is her uncle. The porter says he will have to call Maria’s parents to get permission for her to go with him. “No problem,” he says, “while you call I will go pick her up in her classroom”. Her parents deny the story and the man is not able to leave the school grounds with Maria. At this point the school staff has started to get suspicious and they are able to record the number of his license plate and inform the police.

The man is later intercepted at the state border. He has a criminal record and has already spent time in prison for molesting children. Unfortunately, as there was no formal accusation, the police are not able to arrest him.

The scary situation I described above is a true story that happened to the daughter of one of my husband’s colleagues. The topic came up in a talk how nowadays children are so computer savvy, and my husband commented on how we limit the kids’ screen time: we have no TV set at home; the eldest has limited time on the Internet and no social media or e-mail accounts; and, more recently, we have cut all screen time for the two smaller kids (both under four) with the exception of days at grandma’s and the rare trip to the movie theater. At that point the co-worker stated that nowadays it is impossible to control kids’ screen time and recounted what happened to his girl.

Valdemar Setzer*, a professor at the Computer Science Department of the University of São Paulo (USP) researches the impacts of screens on children and advocates that kids – for lack of maturity – should have no access whatsoever to the Internet (teens included). I recently heard him talk and a lot of what he said only confirmed my own opinions and reinforced the hard decision of eliminating all screen time for my two youngest kids at home.

On the other hand, it also got me thinking about how part of the problem doesn’t have to do with the screens themselves: it is much more about parents and children who spend way too little (quantity) time together, parents who overwork to make ends meet and are (understandably) too tired to play or do outdoor activities with the kids and the end of the day or during the weekends, or simply parents and kids which communication needs to improve a lot.

I am not trying to be judgmental here – I am grateful my job is flexible and allows me to have a lot of time with my kids, but I know other parents are not so fortunate.

However, even in my case stories like this make me once again rethink my priorities and find ways to organize our family life, as there is always room for improvement. After all, there is nothing more important to me that my children, and I believe that is the case for most parents. Also, despite all the benefits the Internet and other new means of communication have brought about (such as bringing together mothers from around the world in this blog!), for me real, active life is always better than the passive life that goes on “behind the screens” – not only for children, but for adults too!

And you, do you control your children’s screen time? If so, how? Please share your story!

[*] Prof. Setzer’s website is loaded with information on the effects of screens on children, including stuff in English – http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Eco Ziva of Brazil. Photo credit: Sinistra Ecologia Libertá. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Ecoziva (Brazil)

Eco, from the greek oikos means home; Ziva has many meanings and roots, including Hebrew (brilliance, light), Slovenian (goddess of life) and Sanskrit (blessing). In Brazil, where EcoZiva has lived for most of her life, giving birth is often termed “giving the light”; thus, she thought, a mother is “home to light” during the nine months of pregnancy, and so the penname EcoZiva came to be for World Moms Blog. Born in the USA in a multi-ethnic extended family, EcoZiva is married and the mother of two boys (aged 12 and three) and a five-year-old girl and a three yearboy. She is trained as a biologist and presently an university researcher/professor, but also a volunteer at the local environmental movement.

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mickeyAs parents determined to raise global citizens, my husband and I were reticent to channel financial resources toward a Disney-vacation rather than taking our children abroad for enrichment. But, there is something that stirs inside both of us when it comes to celebrating the ephemeral days of childhood that made us reconsider.

Here in the US, a visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida or Disneyland in Anaheim, California is a childhood hallmark. In fact, I have met parents, who began planning their Disney vacation the moment they found out they were pregnant with their first child.

And even though a Disney family-vacation can cost upwards of several thousand dollars (with hotels, park tickets and flights), it doesn’t necessarily mean that parents will wait until their children are old enough to fully enjoy the experience nor, in some cases, are even old enough to remember it; tots, barely able to toddle, are a common site at Disney theme parks. (more…)

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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