An event aimed at educating parents about both the dangers and benefits associated with social networking sites like Bebo and Facebook, as well as how they actually work and why their children use them, will be held next Thursday 10 April at the Cleraun Centre near University College Dublin.
Luison Lasalla, who will be presenting the talk, is an IT consultant and educationalist and is director of the Anchor Youth Centre in Dublin, which recently conducted a survey on the social networking habits of Irish teenagers.
Sites like Stardoll, Girlsense and Club Penguin are all aimed at younger children but do not receive as much media coverage as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook.
Lasalla parents’ night will cover all of these sites and offer live demonstrations, as well as offering practical advice to parents and providing them with safe surfing guides.
One particular site aimed at girls aged between 9 and 16 and which is causing outrage among parents is Miss Bimbo.
The site encourages members to pop diet pills (this feature is now removed) and get plastic surgery to stay attractive, as well as requiring users to spend money on feeding, clothing and entertaining their ‘bimbo’.
This feature is on other networking sites and allows users to pay through their mobile phone, something that many parents are not aware of and can see children spending their mobile phone credit on, says Lasalla.
“Miss Bimbo is all about physical looks not just about style and fashion,” says Lasalla.
“All commentators agree that it is a dangerous website and can generate misconceptions about happiness, self-esteem and self-fulfilment in young girls.”
However, Lasalla says that banning the site outright is not the answer: “It’s another opportunity for parents to try to educate their children about what’s really important in life.
“It is also an opportunity for the media to highlight the negatives of these websites and to wonder about the ‘monsters’ we are creating in our children.
“The more we demonise such websites as a society the safer and saner our children will grow up. It’s the same as with smoking and alcohol: you don’t ban them but you keep highlighting the negative effects they can have on people.”
By Marie Boran