Parents with teens online will inevitably be faced with the question, “When is the right time to give my child access to Facebook, and how do I make sure they are using it safely and responsibly?”. As the largest social networking site with over 500 million active users, Facebook monitoring is very important for parents because their teen will likely connect with and meet potentially hundreds of ‘friends’ online – many of them strangers they have never before met in real life.
Never before has it been so easy for teenagers to amass hundreds of friends in such a short time. It has also become more important than ever for teens to manage their privacy settings, and be aware of what content may get shared with the entire world to read, including college admissions directors and future job employers. Managing a child’s online reputation can be a challenging job for busy parents, and we’ve provided some quick tips for helping parents just getting started with monitoring their child on Facebook and ensuring teens’ social networking safety.
1. Parents – Get on Facebook!
If you haven’t already joined Facebook, sign up today. If your child is already on Facebook and you are not, you are missing out on the opportunity to connect with your child on Facebook and share a part of their world, but you are also missing out on the ability to monitor your child’s content on Facebook to make sure they are posting content that does not endanger their privacy or safety.
2. Help Your Child Get on Facebook. Adjust Your Child’s Privacy Settings Immediately.
Make sure your child is aware of the guidelines and rules by which they need to abide in order to be given the privilege to access Facebook. If you plan to actively monitor your child’s social networking activity, including content they post online and who they become friends with, make sure you make them aware of your activity of Facebook monitoring. You should also let your child know that in order to use Facebook, they must become friends with you as a pre-requisite for use.
4. Befriend Your Child on Facebook.
A survey showed that 86 percent of teens are friends with their parents on Facebook. According to one study, teens are more likely to give their parents full Facebook access than no access at all. Before you allow your child to obtain their own Facebook account, let them know that being friends with them on Facebook is a safety requirement for you as a parent, and that you are concerned for their safety on Facebook and will be actively monitoring their internet safety. Make sure you follow Facebook Etiquette for Parents (How to Avoid Being ‘Defriended’ by Your Child). Remember that your child may be happy to have you as a friend, as long as you don’t constantly intrude or post embarassing content to their Facebook page. “In a Facebook era, the online arena serves as a new channel for parents to keep tabs on what and how their kids are doing,” said Justin Serrano, Kaplan senior vice president, in a statement, “and it’s notable that a sizeable percentage of today’s teens seem comfortable with that dynamic.”
5. Actively Monitor Your Child Without Spying or Stalking
While every parent wants to keep their child safe from dangers – both offline as well as online, it’s important that you let your teenager start to have their own private lives and conversations with friends. We suggest that in addition to letting your child know you will be watching out for their Facebook safety and security, that you use a parental control software that allows your child the freedom to connect with friends and post content freely, without requiring you to access their username or password or read their every post. SafetyWeb, for example, is an internet monitoring software that alerts you immediately if your child posts content that may put their privacy, safety or reputation in jeopardy (such as content related to drugs and alcohol, depression or suicide, profanity, bullying and hate language). And also it does not require any download or installation.
6. Talk to Your Child — Keep the Conversion Open and Ongoing
Talking openly with your child about your concerns over their social networking safety is important and necessary. Letting your child know that you are available to listen to their concerns as they explore the new online world of Facebook will help them rely on you when needed. Making time each week to ‘check in’ with your child to discuss what they are learning through Facebook, and what new sites, people and pages they have discovered as a result of their Facebook activity will help you keep tabs on their digital lives. Asking open-ended questions can be a great conversation starter. You may also find that your child is more open to sharing information with you online via Facebook than face-to-face, in much the same way that your child may be more comfortable disclosing information to you via text message from their bedroom than by talking to you in the same room.
7. Help Your Child Understand the Difference Between Friends, Frenemies, and Strangers
It’s important for parents to know who their child is friends with online, since contact can cross over to the physical world, and may not always be friendly or well-intentioned. By knowing who your child is friends with on Facebook, and whether they are age appropriate, parents can keep children safer from strangers or cyberbullies. Teach your child the difference between true friends and ‘collectable friends’ or ‘trophy friends’; some teens don’t care about the quality of their online friendships, only the number of total friends appearing on their Facebook friends list. In fact, a recent privacy study on parents and teens revealed that over 42% of teens had accepted ‘friend requests’ from strangers, partly because teens are not as discerning as we would like them to be. Teach your child to beware of ‘frenemies’, or friends who pose as friends but end up posting content that may hurt your child’s self-esteem or use the information your child shares on Facebook to hurt them or damage their reputation at school or with peers. Let your child know that it shouldn’t be okay to befriend strangers, especially adults over 18 unless they are a relative or family friend you approve of.
8. Advise Your Child Never to Share Personal Information on Facebook Publicly
Personal information that could become public with the wrong privacy settings should never be shared on Facebook, such as birthdate, home address or telephone number, including your child’s cellphone number, as well as location information such as the name or address of their school, or their mobile location (also known as geolocation from their cellphone). Make sure that Facebook Places is set to private, so that your child’s friends cannot tag them on photos or in posts as being in a certain physical place at a given time, which may endanger their physical safety.
9. Teach Your Child Responsible Use of Technology, By Teaching Respect for Themselves and Others
If your child truly respects themselves and others, you’ll worry a lot less about them abusing technology like Facebook to behave badly online. By letting your child know that you expect them to conduct themselves responsibly and respectably on Facebook and other sites where they may post information, it is less likely that your child will be reluctant to talk with you if they are ever cyberbullied on Facebook, and also less likely that they themselves will use Facebook to bully their peers. Teach your child what information is okay to share (the positives!) and also what information is NOT okay to share (such as naked or risque photos of themselves, language that they would feel ashamed to say publicly in front of their teachers, college admissions officers or future job employers), and what to do if they start to feel uncomfortable with a situation they encounter online (make sure they know they can talk to you first). Here is a great ‘tech policy’ from one family, as originally posted on ConnectSafely.org by Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes:
“Technology can be really fun to use, and it gives us incredible access to the world, but it is a privilege not a right, and because it is a privilege, you have the responsibility to use it ethically. What using technology ethically looks like to me is that you never use it to humiliate, embarrass … or misrepresent yourself or someone else, never use a password without the person’s permission, never share embarrassing information or photos of others, put someone down, or compromise yourself by sending pictures of yourself naked, half-naked or in your underwear. Remember that it is so easy for things to get out of control. You know it, I know it. So I reserve the right to check your online life, from texting to your Facebook page, and if I see that you’re violating the terms of our agreement, I’ll take your technology away until you can earn my trust back. This is my unbreakable, unshakeable law.”
10. Have Fun with Facebook and Your Child
Remember that Facebook can be a very positive source of community and connection for parents as well as teens, so embrace Facebook as a family but do so together, with clear guidelines in place and open conversation between you and your child about what is the responsible way to use Facebook to communicate with friends and family members. Follow the Facebook parenting tips above, and call 1-888-SAFE-WEB anytime for more guidance in getting started with Facebook monitoring for your child.
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