If you have a teenager, I am assuming they have a Facebook account or they will be asking to set one up. Even if you are like me and have had a Facebook account for a few years before your young person asks for one, navigating Facebook as a family can be difficult. First, Facebook terms of service state that you must be 13 years old to have an account. Parents, I implore you not to let your under-13 child have an account. That's an article for our preteen section, but there are good reasons to wait until they are 13.
If you, as the parent, are not already on Facebook, do it now. Even if you don't use it to connect with friends and colleagues, please use it to monitor your child's use. What does that monitoring need to look like? That is going to depend on your family. For us, about once a week I go to my son's page to see what's going on, what's being posted and what pictures are up. It isn't a set time every week, and I rarely comment on his page so he never knows when I am checking. We talked about rules before my son joined Facebook. Until he is 16, we have to know his password, and he has to be our unrestricted friend. We decided that if he is trustworthy enough to drive a car, he should be trustworthy enough to manage his account.
Why do you need to monitor their usage?
Honestly it only took my son two weeks to lose Facebook privileges for the next two weeks. It wasn't a horrible transgression, but he was using language that was not appropriate. This is where Facebook is so tricky. The kids think of it like they are talking to each other on the blacktop at school and they quickly forget who is "listening" to these conversations. They might have their own privacy settings locked down, but the minute they post on someone else's wall, it is out in the internet forever. Schools, colleges and future employers will be able to find Facebook activity. Clearly my son also forgot that his beloved MawMaw is his friend on Facebook. While he is learning about this social networking space, it is up to us to guide him.
We were lucky that he learned his lesson quickly. It has been fairly smooth sailing. Only a few times have my eyebrows shot up over my forehead when reading his wall. I am more likely trying to figure out how he has so much time for Farmville when his computer time is limited. Facebook is trying to help parents with resources like this one about Keeping Teens Safe Online. If you browse their extensive help center with the word "Parents" you will find several articles. Once you have been on Facebook for a bit, it will be time for us to talk a little bit more about commenting, chat, and posting pictures of your teens. If you have any questions about Facebook please ask in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.
Tough Enough to be a Parent Already
Being a parent of teenagers is hard enough and now we have to worry about our online relationship with our teens. Teenagers are growing up in a very different world and sometimes it’s hard to wrap our minds around how different it is. So much of their lives, school and social, are connected through the internet. Teachers put assignments on their website instead of printing them out, friends text to see what you’re doing instead of calling. Facebook can be such a great way to connect with friends, but it can create very sticky situations for parents.
I make it a rule to not comment on my son’s Facebook page very often. This habit was confirmed by a friend, we’ll call him Sam, who is in his mid-twenties. He told me the story of a former college friend whose boyfriend had broken up with her. The friend’s mother messaged the boyfriend to ask why he had broken up with her daughter. The MOTHER messaged the daughter’s boyfriend. Sam said he went back over the friend and boyfriend’s Facebook walls and the mother commented almost every day. I suspect I might know why the boyfriend decided to run for the hills. I know that as our children grow up and become their own persons, it can make us feel like we are losing them. If you have a solid relationship with your child, you are not losing them. You are evolving into a different stage. Different can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be bad. If you don’t have a solid relationship with your child, it will not be improved by commenting frequently on their Facebook wall.
Bullying on Facebook
What happens if you notice your teenager being bullied on Facebook? Do not comment or message the teens you suspect of bad behavior. Getting in the middle of a conflict on Facebook is opportunity for matters to get out of control. If there is bullying going on, it’s time to engage the other parents in real life. If school is referenced at all, you should notify the school. Bullying can be taken way too far online because everyone feels so anonymous. One of the best things you can do is try to bring it to light. I would also recommend that your teen either unfriend the bullies or at least limit their access to your teen’s Facebook page. If you go to privacy settings under your account, you can limit people by group or individually.
With my son, he has to be my friend until he is sixteen. I hope that we can grow a successful online ‘friendship” enough that he won’t automatically unfriend me when he turns sixteen. For us to do this, we both have to respect each other. He doesn’t use Facebook to ask me if I've done the laundry, and I don't use it to ask if he's done his homework. I comment and “like” sparingly even though I love him and love most of what he says. So far this seems to be working, but I would love to know what your experience has been!