"Can I have a Facebook account?"
If you're a parent and you haven't yet heard that request, then it's only a matter of time. And while you may be able to push back for a while, it's almost inevitable that the "everyone else has one" or "I'd like to be in touch with my cousins" arguments will eventually win the day.
Although you may dread the thought of your child being on Facebook, the actual experience is rarely as bad as some of the media headlines might suggest. In fact, I am here to tell you that I welcome Facebook as an opportunity to teach my kids important lessons in cyber awareness and appropriate online behavior.
But what if you are unfamiliar with Facebook, or you are not sure what's the right approach for a tween or young teen? Here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Start by agreeing how it will be used
Kids want to have "a Facebook" because many of their friends are connected this way and they are feeling left out of the conversation. If you have a daughter, this is particularly tough on them and how they relate to their pals. So discuss parameters and use this as a "training wheels" experiment. One of our rules at home includes for example not friending any boys that are older -- as they tend to have more advanced language choices. Parenting lesson: Start slow so you can both learn together and create teachable moments.
2. Use a shared e-mail address to open the account
When you are setting up your child's account, use your own e-mail address or an e-mail address that you both have access to. That way, you will see friend requests as they come in and any other notifications like tags (your child's name) on posts or photos. You will also know if your child tries to change the password! Parenting lesson: Build trust while still being involved so you can discuss what's appropriate and what's not together.
3. Quality not quantity
When kids first open a Facebook account, there is a tendency to equate the number of friends they have with how popular they are. That usually results in a mad dash to friend everyone they know... and quite a few people they don't! Resist the temptation. Building a friend list slowly but surely will make for a much more satisfying Facebook experience. Parenting lesson: discuss the meaning of friendship and the importance of "friending" only the people that they know.
4. Choose Profile Photos carefully
The photo on your child's Facebook profile is very important. It can say volumes about how they see themselves, as well as what you, as a parent, think of them. If you have a daughter, then cutesy is OK but provocative is a no-no. If you're not comfortable having a photo of your child up there at all, then think about using a picture of a favorite pet, or maybe an avatar. (That's a cartoon-style image, not the tall blue lady from the movie!) Parenting lesson: This provides a great opportunity to discuss self image and for you to learn how your child sees herself.
5. Be selective about the Profile Information
When you first open an account, you will be asked to complete the Profile Information. Headings include Basic Information, Personal Information, Contact Information, Education, and the things your child is interested in like Sports and Arts & Entertainment. Use the settings alongside each category to restrict who can see the information. Although it's fun for your child to list her favorite movies, books and sports teams, contact information and other personal details should be left blank or kept strictly private. Parenting lesson: In this exercise you are also learning and encouraging prudent self-expression and creativity.
6. Privacy Settings
Once you have completed the Profile Information, go back to the menu bar and click on Account. From the drop down menu, click on Privacy Settings. Facebook will give you a brief overview of all the Privacy Settings options. Most Privacy Settings are set by default to Everyone. Here, it's recommended that you change all the settings to Only Friends.
Remember, Facebook has a strong tendency towards openness, which may be fine for some later in life. When your child starts out in the social networking world, the emphasis should be on privacy. Parenting lesson: Here you get a chance to discuss how far reaching and permanent the Internet can be and use examples to demonstrate some of the consequences.
7. Teach what's appropriate
Once your child's account is up-and-running, spend some time discussing what's appropriate to write or post and what's best left off the site. Teach them to ask permission before posting photos of other people. (Particularly photos of Mommy in a swimsuit! Or dad holding a beer at a family BBQ... ) Talk about updates and photos that are posted by your child's friends and what you like or don't like about them.
Remember, kids also have access to Facebook from their smartphones, iPads or other mobile devices. Parenting lesson: Make sure that the important lessons you teach at home go with them on the road.
Continue to monitor your child's account until you are completely satisfied that they are using it safely and appropriately. And ultimately remember to be the person you want your child to become.
Do you have any other tips to share with us about Facebook parenting?
Follow Monica J. Vila on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@theonlinemom