Let’s face it: EVERYONE’S on Facebook. Legally, you’re supposed to be 13, but recently, when I found myself wishing my teenager a happy 22nd birthday, it dawned on me that most kids will have/want an account.
So as a parent, what can we do to allow our children a bit of freedom AND keep them safe? Here are my top tips – mostly stuff I’ve learned the hard way. But hey, even if it’s too late for me, you can still do it right!
I firmly believe that NO parent should be allowing their children access to something they know nothing about. If you’re not on Facebook, get on it now. Read up about it. Find out what it’s about. Help them with their privacy settings. Talk to them about it.
When our kids first wanted Facebook accounts, our rule was yes, as long as we had access to the email account that was registered, and that one parent was allowed to be their Facebook friend. Make it clear that every so often, you will be logging on to their account. Then do it: check their chat for anything untoward. This isn’t snooping, this is protecting your child.
I’m a heavy user of social media. This gives me a bit of an advantage as I know what goes on. I know people can be mean. I know people can pretend to be who they’re not (see number 4) and I know people can ‘hide’ behind their computer screens and say things there’s no way they’d say to a person’s face. Tell them about social media. Talk to them about trolls. Tell them that Facebook is a public forum… tell them that, like text messages, statuses can often be taken out of context. Something you think is funny can be hurtful to someone else. Likewise with smutty talk: they see it on the TV, but have chats about how it’s appropriate to talk to the opposite sex. We’ve had hilarious chats about this – but it all gets the message across.
Important rule here: be clear that they can ONLY be friends with someone they know in real life. Tell them FIRMLY: if someone sends you a friend request and you don’t know them IN REAL LIFE, don’t accept it. And don’t engage in conversation with that person either. We have the standard joke about the 40 year old pervert who looks like Comic Book Guy out of the Simpsons pretending he’s a 13 year old girl. They laugh. But it happens.
Our rules about statuses are simple. Live as you would in real life. Don’t say anything mean. Don’t be racist, sexist or homophobic (or anything else-ist for that matter).
Don’t comment on their statuses (especially when their mates are tagged – they’ll all get a message containing your comment, remember). And never pass on information you’ve gleaned from their Facebook pages. Even something as innocuous as ‘oh, I see you’ve got a puppy’ to your kid’s friend could mark you out as a snooper. Uncool.
Got a fabulous holiday photo of them licking an ice cream? Or maybe a cute baby photo of your kid that you think they’ll love? Just remember how bloody embarrassing your Mum and Dad were when you were a kid. Ask first – ‘can I post this on your timeline?’ ’Can I tag you in this photo?’ And if the answer’s no, it’s no. Which leads me nicely onto:
So you’re friends with your kids on Facebook? Remember all these rules apply to you too. If they see you bitching or making snarky comments, why shouldn’t they do it too? Set the tone and remember that you can exclude them from certain posts if they’re a bit too ‘grown up’.
A good way to do family stuff without embarrassing the kids is to have a ‘family’ Facebook group set up. That way, Grandma and Grandad can keep in touch, they can chat with aunties from abroad and everyone can share those dodgy photos and family reminiscences – all without their mates seeing.
Just as it’s important to know that you’re not going to dive in and spoil their banter, it’s important for them to understand that you’re there if they’re got a problem. Make it clear that you’re always open to dialogue and check every so often that everything’s cool. Likewise if they’re worried about someone else, reassure them that it’s not ‘snitching’, it’s being a good friend.
By the time they get to 16, the hope is that you’ve instilled them with enough knowledge to go forward without you. If they want to go it alone, then you’ve got to let them go. If they want to still be friends, happy days, but if they need their privacy, trust them to go it alone and do the right thing, knowing you’re there if you need them.
And that’s it. Now who wants to see this awesome picture of the Death Wish Dude in his birthday suit…