Thursday, January 12, 2012

New frontiers in parenting: Facebook rules

Even before my kids became teens, I was thinking about life with Facebook for them.  I entered the world of social media reluctantly myself.  Facebook seemed like such a waste of time and energy, I was determined never to fall for it.  It wasn't till I discovered that my six nieces and nephews - all adults now and scattered all across the US - lived on Facebook. If I wanted to have a relationship with them, I needed to be there too.

Now I'm there every day, and I love it.  I am friends with long-lost relatives, old friends from the past, and newer friends who live all over the place.  I see my adult nieces and nephews every day now; I know what's going on in their lives and I can comment freely.  Sometimes I see things I'd rather not, but as one friend pointed out, even that helps me focus my prayers for them.

Still, I knew the dangers for teens. So when my kids' teen years approached, I spent some time formulating my rules for social media.    When my son turned 13, he couldn't have cared less about Facebook.  It was only recently that I got him to sign up, so he could join our church youth group page.   My daughter, on the other hand, was ready to rock and roll on her 13trh birthday.  I was surprised she wasn't up early that morning, creating her account and downloading photos.

My list of rules, guidelines, and advice for Facebook (and whatever social media outlet may come around next) is pretty long.  It's not just about internet safety, but about keeping their hearts safe too.  As homeschoolers, my kids are pretty sheltered from middle-school culture, with its gossip and constantly-changing friendships and alliances.  They are taking bigger steps into the big bad world and I want them to be ready for it.

Friend only people you know in real life.  My kids can't accept any friend requests unless they have personal contact with the person.  "Friends of friends" don't count.

Privacy settings are set to the most private.  All posts are seen only by friends, not friends of friends. No personal information is listed.

Mom is your friend, and has your password.  I do log into my kids' accounts periodically to check for messages and other information that I can't see from their walls.  We have always raised our kids to have little to no expectation of privacy from Mom and Dad, so it's not a big deal:  they expect it.

"If you wouldn't say it to Grandma, don't say it on Facebook."  We have always talked to our kids about the long memory of the internet.

Don't list friends as family members.  Your best friend is not your sister, no matter how close you feel today.

Understand that some people will friend you simply to increase their friend count, not because they want a relationship with you.  We have already encountered this; an acquaintance of my daughter's - who barely speaks to her when they are in a group together - friended her.  She doesn't expect much from that - though it's always possible that a Facebook friendship will pave the way to a real one.

Understand that not everyone you send a friend request to will accept it.  Shrug it off and don't let it affect your real-life relationship.

No apps that require personal information about you or your friends.  I might have to revisit this at some point, but so far, so good.

No games, period.   I might revisit this one sometime, too, but for now, I don't see a bigger potential time-waster in my kids' lives than Facebook games.

While I was working on this, I came across Sarah's great post on the topic:  Facebook and Your Teen.  She brings up some ideas I hadn't thought of, and I'll be sharing those with my kids as well. 

Some parents are afraid of social media.  I know mothers who count on their kids' other Facebook friends (adults, such as youth group leaders) to let them know if something goes wrong with their child's Facebooking.  I know parents who don't want to intrude on their kids' social lives so don't insist on being friends.  This is just crazy to me!  We need to stay on top of technology so we can participate and be watchful.

Besides, we don't want the kids to have all the fun, do we?

How are you navigating social media with your teens?  Or do you prefer not to?


A Complete Thought said...

Neither of my boys have expressed any interest whatsoever in FB, and honestly I am relieved. However, if they were to, your list of suggestions would definitely be a starting point for my own conversations with them about it. Thanks.

Birdie said...

My eldest three use FB (my eldest is 20, though) and it has been a positive experience so far. They mainly use it to keep up with friends and family members. We do monitor them fairly closely and they only have access to the internet while out in the living room and office areas in full view of both parents and siblings.