WITH new media becoming an unstoppable force in society, more parents are joining social-networking sites to connect better with their children.
In the 2008 Annual Survey on Infocomm Usage published by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), 3 per cent of people aged between 50 and 59, and 2 per cent of those aged 60 and above, use the Internet to log onto social-networking sites.
Only 2 per cent of those aged between 50 and 59, and none of those aged 60 and above, did so in 2007.
With that in mind, the IDA and the National Library Board started a three-hour Be A New Media Parent workshop last month, where 47 parents learnt to communicate with their children via popular new media.
They were introduced to the different types of new media sites, ways to bond with their children better using these sites, and how to use these sites in a responsible and secure way.
Parents whom my paper spoke to said that social-networking websites, such as Facebook, can help them communicate better with their children, and get a better insight into their children’s lives.
The children feel that it brings them closer to their parents, but at a small price – they have to be more restrained about what they post.
Mr James Chua, 56, the general manager of a German forklift-truck manufacturer, said that, since he joined Facebook two years ago, he has been able to find out more about his three children’s thoughts.
“Having access to their thoughts (when they write them on Facebook) adds another dimension to them. I can see another different side and get to know them more in depth. You can also have a feel of the friends that they have,” he said.
But he does not usually ask his children about what they post on the website.
“They may think of it as a form of intrusion. I need to be mindful of my comments on Facebook as well,” he said.
His daughter, undergraduate Ann Marie Chua, 20, said that she does not mind having her father on Facebook, though she feels uncomfortable when he occasionally makes fun of her there, and she has to be careful about her updates.
“I can’t use foul language on it, and I’ll feel very embarrassed if I put anything too rude,” she said.
Office administrator Rosy How, 54, said that being on Facebook lets her see the photos that her children post, and be aware of where they go.
But she usually does not probe into their whereabouts or Facebook updates, she said.
“They are entitled to their own privacy too. If they want to tell me things, they will tell me in their own time,” she said.
Her daughter, Jackelyn How, 27, a senior officer in human resources, said that she now enjoysa “slightly closer” relationship with her parents, because they have common interests and can talk about things that happen on Facebook.
Still, she has to be wary about what she posts online.
“You don’t want to have yourparents monitor your every move. It feels like a slight loss of freedom as you never know when your parents are loading your Facebook page,” she said.
Educational consultant and mummy blogger Nura J-Esman, 27, uses new media as a teaching tool for her four-year-old daughter, Nyla.
She first got Nyla, then 10 months old, to use interactive websites.
For example, Nyla had to press on the keyboard to play a peekaboo game with Elmo on the Sesame Street website.
Now, she uses photos of relatives on Facebook to discuss the different seasons and cultures of other people with Nyla.
She also helps her child play Internet games that teach classification and counting, and uses YouTube to teach moral values, current issues, and music.
“Technology is advancing and I don’t want my daughter to fall behind. It also allows me to spend more time with her as I can sit with her and supervise her,” she said.
Experts said that the use of new media is percolating down to everyday life, and parents should join the revolution to enhance parent-child bonding and keep up with their children.
Mr Kelvin Tan, vice-president of new media in technology-solutions firm ServTouch ETi, said: “The (participation of the) parental community on social- media and new-media platforms is heating up.
For example, in Facebook and sites such as kiasuparents.com, you can see growing participation from parents,” he said.
He advised parents to join their children on a platform that they are comfortable with.
The children find it easier to express emotions through new media, so parents who have access to these can understand them better, he said.
“If parents don’t show interest, the generation gap between them, precipitated by inaction, will get bigger and bigger.
“However, when parents try too hard to probe into the lives of their children via new media, it might result in a backlash where their kids shut them out of their lives. Do not use new media as a tool to police your child’s (activities),” he added.
Ms Anita Fam, a member of National Family Council, said: “It is a good sign when children allow parents to be on their friends list. It means the kids are keeping an open channel and trust their parents enough to allow them to see their pages.”
But family members should still spend time together physically, to qualify as having quality time as a family, she said.
“I see new media as something auxiliary and yet, necessary. But it cannot be the primary cornerstone in building your relationship with your kids. It is just one of the tools to reach out to your kids and show that, as a parent, you are not a ‘dinosaur’,” she said.