In my role as a clinical psychologist who talks to parents of teens and tweens all week long, I learn a lot about parents and their secrets. I know that there are lots of parents who are familiar with Facebook, but who have little idea of what to look for on that page and even more importantly, how to make Facebook safe for their kids.
Today I am going to help you with making Facebook a safer venue for your kids. You see, I have become aware that many parents are embarrassed to say that they don't quite know how to help their kids become safe on Facebook -- quite a tongue-twister-huh? The first thing that I want to make crystal clear is that in the United States, a child must be 13 to legally have their own Facebook page. I know that in some communities 11- and 12-year-olds have Facebook pages, but they shouldn't because not only is it illegal, but many are not mature enough to deal with the exposure to mature content often posted on Facebook.
Second, there are a lot of good things about Facebook. It's a way to stay connected. On the other hand, it's a way to get connected to the wring people. This brings me to my second point. Review your teen's list of Facebook "friends" with them at least once per month. I believe that the golden rule here should be that they have met every single one of the people that is a Facebook friend in person. Nobody that I know has 1,000 friends. And, yes, there are adults out there who are setting up fake Facebook pages where they post a photo of a teenager and pretend to be a teenager in an effort to befriend your teen. They are adults with unsavory motives.
Third, familiarize yourself with Facebook's privacy settings, which are on the top right-hand side of the page. Your teens can monitor who gets to see their page and who does not have access to it. They can also check off who does and does not get to see photos that that are identified or "tagged" in.
There are also privacy settings that your teen can check that allows or doesn't allow others to access their Facebook page by e mail address or phone number. See, there are more safety features then you thought.
Fourth, I firmly believe that you should have your teen's Facebook password. Your teen should know that you will be monitoring their Facebook every now and then because that's what responsible parents do. They concern themselves with their teens' safety. Safety trumps privacy.
Finally, you do not need to friend your teen on Facebook. After all, you are their parent and not their friend, correct?
You see, I believe that parents get overly-enthusiastic about monitoring their kids' grades to the exclusion of what goes on in their technological worlds. And, I do dare to say that being a "helicopter" parent is a fine activity when it comes to technology.