If you have a tech-savvy tween in the house, then you’ve probably heard the question already: ‘When can I have a Facebook account?’
Although your first instinct may be to say ‘not yet’ and hope they quickly forget about it, there are some very good reasons for giving it a little more thought. The last thing you want is to have your child ignore your decision and secretly open an account anyway. (It happens — sometimes the peer pressure is just too much!)
The other reason you might want to say yes is because it provides what educators like to call “a teachable moment”. You have a golden opportunity to help them set up their account the right way and show them what’s appropriate and inappropriate. You even get a chance to be their friend –- at least for a couple of years and, if you’re lucky, maybe longer.
If you decide to take the plunge but aren’t too familiar with how Facebook works, here are some tips to help you get started:
USE YOUR OWN E-MAIL ADDRESS
If you are setting up an account for a tween or young teen, use your own e-mail address or an e-mail address that you both have access to. This way, you will see friend requests as they come in and you can screen any messages that might come from unknown parties. You will also know if your child tries to change the password!
DON’T ALLOW FACEBOOK TO CHOOSE FRIENDS FOR YOU
When you first open an account, Facebook will suggest lots of friends for you based on previous Facebook accounts run off the same computer (very sneaky!) or based on the profile information you provide. It will also ask for permission to search your e-mail account, so it can suggest even more friends. Ignore them all! You should carefully add friends based on your family’s own preferences, not Facebook’s.
CHOOSE THE PROFILE PHOTO CAREFULLY
The photo on your child’s Facebook profile is very important. It says a lot about how they see themselves, and what you, as a parent, think about them. Cutesy is OK, provocative is a no-no. If you’re not comfortable having a photo of your child posted at all, then think about using a picture of a family pet, or maybe an avatar. (That’s a cartoon-style image, not the tall blue lady from the movie!)
BE SELECTIVE ABOUT PROFILE INFORMATION
When filling out your profile information, you should assume that everything you complete will be visible to others. Although Facebook allows you to hide contact information, you should leave that blank anyway.
PLACE AN EMPHASIS ON PRIVACY
Once you have completed the profile information, go back to the menu bar and click on Account. From the dropdown menu, click on Privacy Settings. 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 later in life. However, when your child is just starting in the social networking world, the emphasis should be on privacy.
THINK BEFORE YOU ADD FRIENDS
Be careful about who you and your child add as friends. That 19-year-old cousin might be lots of fun at Thanksgiving dinners and family reunions, but if he’s just started college and likes to party, there may be things on his Facebook page that you would rather your child didn’t see. Remember, Facebook is two-way street: your child will be able to see everything that is posted to her friends’ pages and even to some friends of friends’ pages.
TEACH WHAT’S APPROPRIATE
Once your child’s account is up and running, spend some time together discussing what’s appropriate to write or post. Teach them to ask permission before posting photos of other people. (Particularly photos of Mommy in a bikini!) Talk about updates and photos that are posted by their friends and what you like or don’t like about them.
Set up the right way, Facebook can provide an invaluable opportunity for parents to teach cyber awareness and appropriate online behavior. Grab the opportunity before it’s too late!