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/ .