How Do I Be a Good Facebook Parent?
Letting your kids romp through the world of Facebook completely unsupervised is a worrisome idea. So should you become your child's Facebook BFF/stalker/commentator? The answer is a resounding no (unless you want your child to hate you). Entire websites are devoted to griping about parents' awkward and embarrassing Facebook antics.
So, how do you balance being a responsible parent with the fear of embarrassing your child? Here are some tips. (Disclaimer: These tips are meant to be honest, not mean. Disclaimer #2: All pictures on this page are examples of what NOT to do and are courtesy of myparentsjoinedfacebook.com.)
(1) Insist that your child makes you his or her Facebook friend. This really is non-negotiable. Although there are still things your kids can do on Facebook without your knowing about it, having you as a friend does mean that you can see most of their activity. You can see their pictures and videos, you can see who your child's friends are, and you can see what others write on your child's wall.
However, you should keep in mind that new privacy settings allow users to block specific posts from individual users. That means your child could be hiding any specific posts from you individually, including photos, status updates, or even a relationship status. The only way to completely monitor 100% of your child's activity on Facebook is to know their password.
Likewise, having this level of access to your child's Facebook activity isn't good enough if you suspect that your child is doing dangerous or illegal things on Facebook. Kids are smart, and it's not hard to do things in a way that you won't be able to see. In this instance especially, you should know your child's password so that you can access the account at any time.
(2) Create a trusting relationship by making your intentions clear. You are now your child's Facebook friend. For many kids, this is already an annoyance to them. But if you lay down some ground rules—and stick to them—your child should have no reason to be embarrassed or concerned. Make it clear that you will be checking their page every so often. If you child is worried about you embarrassing them on Facebook, make a few promises:
- You will not write anything on their public wall. This may make you feel bad, but get over it. Your child does not want mommy and daddy writing on a public Facebook wall. A simple, "I love you, Jake!" may seem like a sweet idea, but sadly, it will humiliate your kid. If you have something to say—be it "I love you," "a letter came for you in the mail," "you need to pick up your brother after school," or "I think that girl called again," call your child. Talk to them in person. If you absolutely must send it through Facebook, do it in a private message. But writing on the wall may make your child feel suffocated or embarrassed. If ever you want to write on your child's wall remember that you live with them and you also have a phone number you can contact them on.
- Don't like or comment on your child's status or photos. Sad but true: your mere presence on Facebook, necessary as it is, could be considered an embarrassment. If you like a picture, tell them that in person. And even in person, be careful. Your child probably doesn't want to be reminded that you look over their pictures and comments every four hours, so keep the talking about Facebook to a minimum.
- Don't become friends with their friends. Nothing screams AWKWARD louder than getting a friend request from your friend's mom. Let their parents keep track of their kids online; you really, really shouldn't interact with your kids' friends on Facebook or anything else. More than anything, DO NOT try to contact people your child is dating, especially if you have yet to meet them.
- If you see something concerning, do NOT bring it up on Facebook. Maybe your child said something mean about someone else on Facebook. Don't add your own "That's a terrible thing to say and I think you should take it down, Alex!" underneath. This will humiliate your child and make them angry at you.
But, as a responsible parent, you should talk to your child about anything you see that worries you. Give him or her a call and express your concern. This may be perceived as annoying and intrusive, but that's ok. You're doing your job as a parent in an appropriate and non-embarrassing way.
Here's a worse scenario: what if you see pictures of your child doing something dangerous or illegal (drinking, drugs, sex, and so forth)? It is your responsibility as a parent to talk with your kid about what you saw. Refrain from commenting on Facebook -- instead, report the post as inappropriate so Facebook can take measures to remove the post. Then talk to your child.
Keep in mind that all these suggestions are just that and can be adjusted for your particular situation. Keep tabs on your kids' Facebook pages, but do it in a non-intrusive way by being a silent observer unless you see something really scary and feel the need to talk to them about it in person. Some of these suggestions can be changed when the child grows older, but make sure that your child is actually comfortable with the online relationship.