By Colleen Brady, Health Educator
I hear lots of reasons why many parents don’t want a Facebook account. They don’t have time, they don’t care what their friends ate for breakfast, they don’t want old high school classmates looking them up and it’s a waste of time, to name a few. Some parents just don’t feel comfortable communicating through this new medium. But social networking is a powerful tool that has been placed in the hands of our impressionable, impulsive and ego-driven kids — and they need our guidance.
First, remember that your child needs to be 13 years old to have a Facebook page. The reason for this rule is to protect young children, who should not be allowed to venture prematurely into this new and sometimes dangerous world. A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, reported on CNN.com, found that nearly half of all 12-year-olds in the USA are using social network sites, despite not meeting the minimum age requirements. Facebook is trying to stop this, “booting out” about 20,000 underage users per day. But parents need to get involved and step up to protect their children. Here are some helpful guidelines.
When your child is old enough (at least 13) and wants a Facebook page, help him or her set it up.
- Help your child choose a password that won’t easily be hacked.
- As you set the privacy settings, make sure that they are set at “friends only” privacy. Young people are more likely to accept a friend request from a friend of a friend – even if they don’t know that person. Predators use this to their advantage.
- Check the levels every once in a while because sometimes they can be reset if Facebook makes security changes.
- Younger users should avoid having an identifying picture as their profile shot. Again, predators will use this to their advantage. Their information page should also be kept to a minimum.
Talk to your children about your expectations of them while using Facebook. Kids sometimes forget that what they write online isn’t private. They may get into a Newsfeed fight with a “friend” and go back and delete the interaction. That doesn’t mean that it’s gone forever. The other person could have taken a screenshot of the interaction. Ask your kids to avoid writing or saying anything that they wouldn’t say to someone in person. Consider having your child sign an internet safety contract.
At the time you help your child set up his or her Facebook page, seriously consider setting up a Facebook page of your own and “friending” your child, even if you don’t plan to use it often. Occasional checking establishes your presence as the parent. Keep in mind, though, that your child may object to this oversight and can block your access. This is less likely if you consider yourself a third-person observer and refrain from writing on your child’s wall. (Commenting on his or her posts would be like showing up for school lunch duty in hair rollers.) If your child is older and you feel uncomfortable “friending” him or her, you can ask one of your friends or another close adult, like an aunt or uncle, to “friend” your teen.
Educate yourself on the many apps linked to Facebook. Decide which ones you feel comfortable with, and explore them with your child. Anonymous apps are very popular with teens. These are sites that allow people to write something about someone else without anyone knowing who they are. Sites like Formspringme have become a playground for cyberbullies. Teens are very susceptible to other people’s opinions. As they struggle to figure out who they are and where they fit in the world, anonymous sites can be alluring and dangerous. If they are caught in a cyber fight, check to see what part, if any, they had in the fight.
I was recently viewing Formspring and came across a friend’s daughter. I checked to see what her part in the exchanges was and didn’t see anything negative on her part. However, what other classmates said about her was downright ugly and abusive. When I called my friend, I learned that, like many parents, he didn’t have a Facebook page and had no idea what his daughter was doing online.
Make sure that your teen never meets someone in the “real world” that she or he met on Facebook. Whether your child is the target of a predator or a cyberbully, the same rules should apply: stop, block and tell.
I’ve heard parents say, “What I don’t know won’t hurt me.” What we don’t know may not hurt us, but it sure can hurt our kids. Let’s make peace with social networking. It’s here to stay, and our kids need our help maneuvering safely through the cyber-world.
This website walks you through reporting methods for a number of cyber issues.
Here is a social networking tip sheet from Net Smartz
By Colleen Brady, Health Educator, Prevention Education, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
Questions about parenting? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.