Mention Mary Kay Hoal’s name, and immediately the words “youth,” “Internet,” and “safety” come to mind. A wife and mother of five children, she describes her mission as raising the bar of social networking to protect our youth. Mary Kay founded Yoursphere.com, the first social networking service for youth that parents can embrace. Yoursphere.com is a social media platform that engages kids and teens in rewarding, purposeful, and positive youth-selected activities and interests (sports, music, fashion, academics, gaming, art and photo, movies and television, performing arts, and fashion) – while putting their safety first. Yoursphere.com has been featured on CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, CBS, and is approved by the Privacy Vaults Online Safe Harbor of the Federal Trade Commission.
In November 2010, Mary Kay was recognized as a leader in pro-active digital safety, responsibility, and awareness and inducted into the Hall of Heroes by the National Institute for Responsible Online & Cell Phone Communications (IROC2). I recently had the honor of interviewing Mary Kay, and I would like to share the highlights.
QUESTION: What five things would you tell parents that they must explain to their kids about cyberspace?
MARY KAY HOAL: Picking just five things is hard, but here goes:
- Think before you post because you own what you post. We tell this to kids in Yoursphere as well because it really holds a lot of weight.
- Nothing on the Internet is private. Whether it’s a message or a photo, it lives somewhere, even after you think you’ve deleted it.
- Refrain from sharing personally identifiable information, also known as PII. This is a great acronym for kids to remember. Often, our kids don’t know that putting their first and last names, birthday, home address, school name, or phone/cell number can have serious consequences. Parents must explain why it’s not necessary for kids to share this information online.
- Understand that there are real world consequences to your online actions. Engaging in acts like cyberbullying or sexting can land kids in serious trouble nowadays. Since “you own what you post,” there will always be a trail leading back to your actions, whether you’re the bully or the victim.
- Treat others the way you want to be treated. The age-old Golden Rule is probably one of the best rules for Internet use. Simply put, if you don’t want to be made fun of, don’t make fun of others.
QUESTION: How do you define a cyberbully?
MARY KAY HOAL: A cyberbully is anyone – boy, girl, man, or woman – who intentionally or unintentionally harms someone by posting or sharing hurtful content about that person via the Internet or on a digital device. Contributing to cyberbullying is as easy as forwarding the hurtful content/comment to someone else.
QUESTION: What should a child/teen do if he or she encounters a cyberbully?
MARY KAY HOAL: There are several things a child/teen should do. He/she should refrain from responding – since that will only make matters worse and give the bully the attention he/she seeks. The child/teen should tell a trusted adult (parent, relative, or teacher) and block the bully from all devices (social networks, cell phones, IM). The child/teen or parents should also make a screen shot of the bullying content as digital evidence.
QUESTION: How can parents deal with the challenge of too much texting by kids?
MARY KAY HOAL: Parents can deal with too much texting through moderation, rules, and following through with consequences. I also recommend that parents make it easier for their children to follow the rules by removing the temptation to break them. This can be done by utilizing the tools that service providers offer. For example, disable text capabilities during school/class time and study/sleep time.
QUESTION: At what age should kids create a Facebook page?
MARY KAY HOAL: A Federal law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, requires that children be 13 years of age or older to join Facebook, and Facebook’s terms of service (TOS) require users to be at least 13 years of age. Facebook never intended for its network to be for children.
I believe that the right age to set up a Facebook account is when a child is in his/her late teens. By this age, teens will have encountered social situations and interactions that provided learning experiences, and hopefully, they will have been taught at home and at school the importance of being, and how to be, safe and smart online and with all digital devices they use. Also, by late teens, they should be better prepared to respond to the adult content and culture of Facebook.
QUESTION: What would you recommend to parents if they want to share information about their kids on social media sites, i.e., Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Blogs, etc.?
MARY KAY HOAL: While I understand how nice it is to share updates about kids and family happenings with distant family members, I recommend the following:
- Don’t use your child’s real name, instead, use a screen name or refer to your child with a generic description, for example, my 12-year-old son
- Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want to say to 25 other people WITH your child in the room
- Watermark photos to avoid online photo abuse
- Set the view settings to “private” on photo and video sharing sites
- Don’t post photos that include license plate numbers or school names or addresses
QUESTION: What do you think Facebook will look like in two years, i.e., how will adults and young people use it differently than today?
MARY KAY HOAL: Facebook will become even more commercialized and will profit substantially from the mining of the personal data that users provide. Facebook will become an “identity provider” for third parties.
Facebook will take a more pro-active approach to disallowing children under 13 from signing up through the utilization of readily available technologies. Facebook won’t take on the Federal Trade Commission, but instead, will partner with Yoursphere.com as the social networking landing pad for children.
In addition, both young and old consumers will become better informed about the ramifications of privacy issues, and adults will become wiser about the content they post online. But at the same time, adults and teens will also suffer from Facebook fatigue. While they may have Facebook accounts, they will spend the majority of their social media time on a network that provides greater content value. For example, in the television industry, while consumers still tune to the large networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), they also select “other” networks that best meet their information and entertainment needs, for example, CNN, FOX, Discovery, Animal Planet, USA, Disney, Nickelodeon, A&E.
Learn more about Yoursphere.com:
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter:
Become a Fan of Yoursphere on Facebook:
Shop for Yoursphere Stuff: