Nov
7
2009

Should You Be Your Child’s Facebook Friend?

As a teacher, I’ve given advice to parents for years. Although not “new” in today’s fast paced technical revolution, social networking sites and the discussion regarding the pros and cons of parental involvement hadn’t really struck me as particularly important until this photo sparked (sorry) my interest. I am concerned about those of you who have children that are a few years younger. Should you be your child’s friend on Facebook, MySpace or other social networking sites, and if so, what kind of friend should you be?

If at all possible a parent definitely should become a tweens or teens internet friend. Be aware that most kids are tech savvy enough to restrict your access and share only what they want you to see, but some access is better than none. At this age, no matter how close you think you are, children are going through a tumultuous period of growth and are reluctant to share their ideas and feelings with parents. But it seems that they think nothing of sharing these feelings in cyberspace. Being their unobtrusive “friend” will allow you to better understand and communicate with your child. It can help tune you into what’s important to them and who their friends are. You don’t need to embarrass them by making comments, just become a good listener. Ideally, social networking sites could even keep you in touch with your child’s friends and their parents.

Although kids aren’t concerned about what future employers think or what would grandma or grandpa might say about a nasty post, they need to be taught that what they say on the internet may be accessible forever. They need to know that unlike something that is said in person, their words can reach countless unintended recipients and it’s easy to hurt someone’s feelings without intending to do so. If they are going to post about someone, it should be something that they would say to a person’s face. There are no take backs in cyberspace.

Parents can also use being friends with their kids as a jumping off point to talk about privacy settings on sites like this so that future employers/colleges don’t end up seeing their spring break pictures down the road. Privacy settings can also control who can find be found. So for example, a search which reveals younger kids could be limited to students that go to their school. Here is a link to Facebook’s privacy/safety policy page that has good information for parents: http://www.facebook.com/safety/ .

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14 Comments + Add Comment

  • I could not agree with you more.

    My now 13 year-old wanted a Facebook account last year when she was a 7th grader. I was hesitant at first because I thought that Facebook accounts weren’t really being used by kids until they at least got to their freshman year of high school. I quickly found out that kids her age were indeed using Facebook – many without their parents knowledge or permission. I decided then and there that she could definitely have an account with the following two conditions: 1) I had to be her friend and she can’t ‘de-friend’ me, and 2)I have to have the same permissions to view her account that she grants her real friends (update status, wall views, note views and photo views) or the account would be closed. I have my own Facebook account, so I’ll know if she changes my access.

    I chose this path because I wanted her to have access to something that is very important as a communication tool and means of expression for kids her age while still being about to both monitor and teach her the proper ways to use the medium. It really isn’t a matter of ‘will she’ or ‘won’t she’. SHE WILL – it’s a fact. This is how kids communicate – period. Whether by text message, email or Google chat – these kids communicate and share information in the electronic medium. In the words of my daughter – it’s ‘how they roll’. I’ve seen many of her friends create Facebook accounts using an alias so their parents don’t know they have the account. The kid code is very strong – these parents are likely to NEVER know what their kids are posting. For some of these kids, it is absolutely going to come back to haunt them later, not only because of what they are posting now, but also because they are learning how to use social media with no feedback or guidance from the one place they should be getting it from in their ‘formative Social Media years’ – their parents.

    I use my daughter’s Facebook and Google talk accounts as an opportunity to teach her about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to post. For example, she posted lyrics from a song (Michael Jackson, no less) one day as a status update. I knew they were lyrics from a song but she didn’t attribute Michael Jackson or the song, so it looked like _her words and thoughts_. I talked to her about why the lyrics were inappropriate and that not attributing them made them appear to be coming from her directly. She changed the status. On another occasion, she and some friends took photos where they were wearing tank tops, but the photos were taken in a way that might suggest that they were in lingerie or other inappropriate clothing. I talked to her about why these types of photos, while totally innocent, are not appropriate to post online. She got it and pulled down the photos.

    As a parent, I think it is important to help young people learn what the rules of engagement are – not just shut down access to the programs (as if we really could anyway). I’d rather be involved and knowing what she’s posting versus having her learn the hard way.

    Social media is here to stay. Let’s help our kids learn the responsible ways to engage in these conversations so they have the right tools to manage it.

  • Would you let an underage kid drive? Operate heavy machinery? That is what parents do when they let their kids use the internet. Just because there are no legal barriers to using the internet, doesn’t mean parents should assume that it’s okay.

    Parents spend lots of effort controlling their kids’ environment. You are sure NOT going to control the internet and you are in NO position to dictate the mode with which another party communicates w/ your child.

    You want to avoid ‘cyberbullying?’ Keep your kids off the internet until they have the emotional and social skills to cope. To do otherwise is irresponsible.

  • Social media is a dangerous new technology, and I’m all in favor of keeping kids away from it. We don’t feel it’s safe for young people to drive a car or drink alcohol until they’ve reached certain ages of maturity. I don’t understand why social media shouldn’t be the same way.

  • Good reminder. Most kids are probably going to have some form of social media life whether their parents know it or not. I think the important peice here is the relationship. Parents who have good relationships with their children will be accepted as “facebook friends” by their children. It is truly the child’s choice. That’s an honor and great accomplishment. This doesn’t mean that parents should just throw stucture and discipline out the window. it is still the parents’ job to monitor and, if needed, restrict internet activity. Don’t let your “friendships” with your child get in the way of being their parent.

  • I allowed my daughter to open a Facebook account with the condition that I have full access to it, password and username. Frequently I log in and read through her comments and replies to others. I advice her on her posts/pictures and she follows my advice, most times. I realize that she’s not mature to understand the future ramifications of posting inappropriate content so I’ve also set guidelines for what she can post or how she should reply to others’ posts. The internet is scary but I’d rather teach her myself how to navigate it and keep herself safe than having her navigate it anyway without any guidance. Her school doesn’t have many internet restrictions/blocks on their computers so she’s free to go online there when the teacher’s not looking.

  • Of course parents should be facebook friends with their kids. Facebook has evolved and it’s no longer just a university sharefest. Be sure to explain to them basic online safety to protect their (and your) privacy. For obvious reasons, parents are concerned about children’s online safety – and should be. However,I don’t think completely restricting internet access to kids is in their best interest. The internet is a necessary tool in today’s society and by exposing kids to it with proper supervision parents can help build their childrens’ healthy online habits. Better that they learn in a safe home environment than at a friend’s house with slack computer rules.

  • Yes, I think it’s very important to be facebook friends with your children. I’ve done so from the start with my (now) 17 year old and will do so with my 12 year old once she starts on Facebook. I am also friends with my children’s friends. (They friended me. I never take that step with them.)

    I tell my girls that what they do online is under my guidance just as anything else they do is under my guidance. I see it as another venue for teaching them. I follow whatever “guidelines” they ask of me (e.g., be invisible, :D ) but I’m always monitoring their conversations and posts and then offline discuss with them anything that strikes me as odd or questionable. It’s just one more way of helping them grow into productive adults with a good grasp on our family values. Their future will be tied – good or bad – to the technology so I want to help them learn how to use it correctly.

  • ABSOLUTELY parents should be their kids’ friends online! I work in a very large youth ministry and I have kids of my own from 8-22. I’ve had parents ask me about the “evils” of Facebook and I tell them what our family rules are: If our children want to be able to use Facebook, then they must include me on their friends list, and I need to know their password. I probably won’t use it, but if anything ever happens, I need that access. If you want to know what teens are doing, to know the ‘pulse’ of what they are into, then you need to be where they ARE. Right now, Facebook is where they are. It’s as simple as that. I have stepped in a few times and asked my daughter to take down a certain photo or a status update or comment that wasn’t appropriate (or would be something that would come back to haunt her in years to come) but otherwise I stay in the background and just monitor.

  • Completely agree with this. The internet may be the #1 threat to parents and their kids in the present/future in my opinion. I’m not anti internet or anti Facebook but a parent better keep their finger on the pulse.

  • It’s my opinion that a child should be friended by their parents, for all the reasons that Felicia stated (yes, I’m being lazy), up until a certain time. The children need to be taught how to use the social networking sites in a responsible matter. I am not a mother, so I may not have the experience to comment on this, but I will nonetheless. I feel that, if one has children and they want to use facebook, the child should be given an ultimatum:
    “You may use facebook under my supervision, and if you can show me that you can be responsible with it, that you can respect other’s your own privacy and safety while using it, and that it will not effect you negatively, then I will withdraw my supervision the day you turn eighteen.”

    *Shrug* That’s how I plan to do it, anyway. I may change my mind when I become a mother, of course.

  • Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. However think of if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and video clips, this blog could certainly be one of the best in its field. Wonderful blog!

  • I agree with you completely Rickie…classroomtalk.com needs photos & video. I need to take the time to learn how to add more to the site to make it more visual. I spend so much time teaching and writing that learning new technology that I don’t use in class is on the back burner.
    Thanks for reading!
    Maggie

  • I’m with you 100%. I teach online classes at a community college, and I’m amazed at how poor a lot of students’ online manners are. Kids should be taught at a young age how to manage their online selves.

    I do admit, however, that things got weird for me when *my* parents became my FB friends (and I’m 46 years old…) Suddenly, I was monitoring *my* posts, lol.

  • I agree – parents should have access to their child’s Facebook and other social networking sites. I have three children: 16, 13 and 11. I have usernames and passwords for my two younger ones. I had it for my oldest until just last year. She is well aware that if I feel something not quite right is going on – she will give me her new password.

    It is my job as a parent to monitor – not police – and guide them to make the right choices. I am proud to say that I haven’t logged in with their information in quite some time because they have all three built up enough trust. I do check their sites at least once a week now.

    As a technology teacher – I stress over and over and over again the importance of being a good digital citizen.

    Our roles as adults are to guide and teach the youth the proper ways to handle things. I always tell students and my kids: when I was young we were taught about stranger danger – but today, it isn’t just stranger danger it is also handling yourselves respectfully in a digital world.

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