One of the most pervasive aspects of the computer age is the non-stop presence of Facebook in our kids’ lives. Parents may take a bit longer to understand the ins and outs of this extremely popular social networking site, but our kids seem to move at the speed of light through cyberspace. Features and privacy policies are always changing, so how do you communicate to your kids the importance of restraint when sharing information with the world? Google your child’s name, see what comes up and then have a talk. Our tips below can help.
Remember the days of actually opening mail by hand? You also may recall trekking to the library to look up information for a report (gasp!) or dropping off your film at a photo shop for development. Yes, once upon a time, we weren’t so dependent on computers for our daily existence. Just a quick glimpse into the lives of our children shows us how much times have changed.
Do as I do.
If your kids are on Facebook (and presumably over the age of 13), they may not be all that interested in what Mom and Dad have to say about it. The key to getting your message across may not be in your delivery, but in your actions. Dr. Elizabeth Berger is a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids With Character. “Parents are at their most convincing when they provide leadership and inspiration to their offspring,” she says. “Trying to lecture, scold or preach to your teenager is not likely to get anywhere.” Model responsible behavior by limiting your time on social networking sites and using restraint when posting personal information.
Talk it out.
You can safely assume that your child does not understand the extent to which her online habits could affect her future. She isn’t thinking about that job she’ll want down the road or how a particular post may affect a relationship. While talking about this serious topic is important, teenagers can smell a conversational setup a mile away. “Try to find moments of genuine communication instead,” suggests Berger. “[Be] a good and empathic listener; that’s the best way to encourage trust and honesty,” says Berger. “Opening a discussion about the Internet and its pros and cons can pave the way for a nuanced conversation with your teen about some of the risks as well as the joys of Facebook.”
Draw the line.
Plenty of parents struggle with knowing where to draw the line in sharing personal information with their children, but this is one instance where you should. “Telling a personal story of how sharing ‘too much information’ created problems for the parent once upon a time is likely to be more meaningful to young people than general threats and warnings,” says Berger. “Parents should be persuasive, not issue decrees.” Sharing an appropriate real-life scenario is likely to make an impression your child and affect his online habits.
Your definition of private and your teen’s may be the same, but they shouldn’t be. At one time, you could rely on a select group of individuals to keep your secrets to themselves, but those days are gone. “Personal information on the Internet can never be truly private,” says Berger. “Friends can become enemies, times can change. Opinions that were adorable one year can become big liabilities the next.” Provide your teen with examples of people who trusted Facebook with their private thoughts and/or pictures, only to be burned in the end. Public figures are great (and plentiful) examples.
While your chances of making your teenager do anything aren’t great, you can provide them with much-needed guidance and the occasional reality check to ensure their Facebook experience is positive well into the future.
More on Facebook’s privacy settings
How to maximize Facebook privacy
Facebook recently changed their privacy settings in response to criticism from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and privacy-conscious users. The purpose of this video is to show you how to get the most privacy out of these new settings.