Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Facebook and Your Teens

When my son was 13, Facebook was just becoming a thing, and MySpace was all the rage. But several years later, Facebook is the thing and no one really talks about MySpace much anymore. My daughter and her friends are all 13 or just turning 13, the magic Facebook age. Some of their moms are asking, "What should I know about Facebook now that my teen is on it?"

First of all and most obviously, if you are a parent of a young teen who has a Facebook page, you need to have a Facebook account. But you don't need to just have a Facebook account, you need to be aware of what is going on in your teen's Facebook world.

Teen. Yes, I said teen. I know a lot of people allow their tweens to be on Facebook, even though the minimum age is clearly 13.

(My daughter had a friend request from a nine-year-old yesterday. I'm guessing his mom lives in the blissful state of Oblivion.)

But let's assume you are teaching your kids that such rules apply to them and have allowed your 13-year-old to participate in the Facebook rite of passage. What do you need to know? I'd suggest learning and sharing techniques for both safety and etiquette.

Staying Safe

1. Have your own account before you allow your child to get one. Obviously, you need to be Friends with your child on Facebook; therefore, you need a Facebook account. And get on Facebook as regularly as your teen does.

2. Guide your child through the opening account process. Yes, that means you need to be savvy enough to navigate Facebook; but since you already have a Facebook page (see #1), this should be no problem for you. That also means that you should know his/her password. Make it very clear to your teen that you have the right to log onto his Facebook page to check up on him/her. I'm not advocating being an overbearing, controlling parent. I'm advocating guiding your young teen and keeping him/her safe. For example, one time our daughter, new to Facebook, put on her status that "I am so bored all home alone." Her Dad saw this while he was at work and immediately called her to tell her to delete that status. But if he had not been able to reach her, he could have logged onto her account to remove this status himself.

3. Profile page. Make sure your child does not list his/her city, year of birth, or contact information.

4. Privacy settings. Under "account" there is a very important link for privacy settings. Read this page carefully. Check out all the links and make sure your teen's privacy settings are as private as you can make them. On the "connecting on Facebook" link, you can set all your child's basic information so that no one sees any of it except "friends." On the "sharing on Facebook" link, you can customize various components so that "friends only" can view them. This includes statuses, videos, photos, etc. Be sure to set these so that "friends only" can view these components.

5. Friends. You should know or be aware of every single person that your young teen adds to his/her Friends list. My daughter has had requests from people with the same last name as ours and absolutely no other reason. My son had a request from someone we did not know. We googled him and saw that he lived close by and was a registered sex offender.
—This also means that you should be aware of people in your kid's life.
There are a few teens that my daughter is not allowed to be FB friends with, although we love them in real life, because their statuses are frequently vulgar and totally inappropriate.

6. Don't advertise being alone. See #2. Make sure your teen doesn't advertise the fact that he/she is home alone. It's like answering the phone and saying, "My mom isn't here right now." In other words, make sure he/she knows that his status should never say, "I'm all alone at home and really bored right now" or "I'm out walking the neighborhood all by myself."

Etiquette Rules to Teach to Your Teen

Navigating the social rules of Facebook can be very, very tricky. But one rule should trump all the others: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Play nice. Don't pick fights. Don't hurt anyone's feelings. Here are some more specific ways to put this into action:

1. Your wall is not private.
In other words, everything that you put on your wall or someone's wall is fair game for anyone to read and comment upon. This leads to…

2. Be thoughtful, courteous, and sensitive. This is especially true with teenagers, and generally even more so with teenage girls. Remember, everything you post on your wall or a friend's wall is public. So if you post on Friend A's wall, "Hey, I had a great time at your slumber party last night," well, you maybe just spilled the beans that Friend A had a slumber party. And then Friends B and C comment and say, "That was so fun!" And guess what Friends D and E are doing? Feeling like losers. Send a private message instead. You don't need to broadcast your social life. Here are some other ways to avoid hurting tender hearts:
• Don't engage in any of the "BFF" or "Top Friends" applications. What a lot of hurt that can all create! Imagine being 13 years old and being the #1 spot on Friend A's "Top Friends" list on Monday but getting shoved down to #5 on Thursday—or worse, eliminated from the list or never being on the list! Just don't even start with those kinds of applications.
• Don't list your 3 best friends du jour on your "siblings" page on your profile. That's just silly. They aren't your siblings, and if you have some kind of conflict with them or they with you, well, it just becomes awkward. Plus, all of your other friends feel undervalued.
• Stay out of Facebook drama. Avoid making comments that you know will hurt someone's feelings. Don't be snarky.

3. Be careful with photographs.
• Don't post unattractive photos of friends, even if you look great in the photo. Remember, do unto others…
• Avoid posting pictures of fun things you and your friends did together when other people were clearly left out. In other words, if you had a private party, keep it private.
• Do not post seductive photographs. It's terribly disturbing to see photos of young girls in bikinis or pursing their lips and making that "come hither" look. Please.

4. Spell correctly and use proper grammar. Why should kids have to spell correctly on their schoolwork but then get to slaughter sentences in the most public place at all? Along those lines:
• Review the uses of "your" and "you're"
• Review the uses of "their" "they're" and "there"
• Figure out how to use "its" and "it's" correctly
• Don't think for a second that it is cute to misspell words on purpose.
• Do not post in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Unless, of course, you are shouting.

5. You don't have to share everything on Facebook. Don't use profanity. Don't spout off an angry status because you're mad at your parents, your brother, or your friend. That doesn't mean that you always have to be fake happy, but you also don't need to broadcast your problems all over the neighborhood. As your own mother probably said to you, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

I love Facebook. I'm all in favor of social networking. Being an aware Facebook parent not only will help keep your child safe, but it will help you to know what your teen and her friends are interested in. What makes them laugh? What "likes" do they have? Facebook can be quite revealing.

Finally, be sure that your teen understands that she will have to delete her Facebook page if she abuses it. And make sure that you follow through with the consequences if that happens.

We lifted Facebook rules as our son got older and of course when he went to college. I mean, really, we have to. (His friends steal his phone routinely and give him statuses that make me blush. But at least his grammar is excellent.) Hopefully, the guidance you provided at a younger age will make a difference as they get older.

Does your young teen have a Facebook account? Am I missing "danger" areas that you've encountered?


  1. Excellent post! Sadly, I have family members who don't monitor their teen's FB acct and it's embarrassing and scary to say the least.

    Even though kids think what they do in their youth won't affect their lives as adults {ha ha}...they really need to be taught that what is out there is there forever. So, when they want that job their future employer may google their name and discover some incriminating photo or insensitive comment and it could cost them an opportunity. :(

  2. We don't "facebook." But I think you gave some excellent tips for parents.

  3. This was a great post! I think a lot of parents do live in oblivion. I do not have children yet and by the time my kids are old enough to use technology, I am sure that I will have an entirely different can of worms to deal with.

  4. Great post! My kids aren't teens yet (and no, they WON'T have a facebook until they are), but these are excellent guidelines to have in place for when they do join. I've had facebook for 3 years now, and I'm appalled sometimes at what I see and at the parents who pay no attention.

  5. Excellent points. I think I will add a quick FB review to our lessons today.

  6. Thanks for this post. I've made a conscious effort to stay off Facebook myself - not because I think it's evil but simply because I don't need to spend any more time online. I did set up an account, though, so that I would understand Facebook a bit and be able to know what's going on with my daughter's page. After reading your article, I updated her privacy settings and took her year of birth off her information.

    As mentioned in your article, teens - and everybody - need to be careful what kinds of pictures they post and what information they post on Facebook. I clicked on my daughter's swim coach and was taken to his page. While not horrible or anything, there were some pictures from New Year's that seemed a bit inappropriate to me. ANYBODY can see the public info on Facebook - including employers, parents, college admissions officers - I think it's good to keep that in mind when deciding what to post.


  7. this is good stuff. i have a 13 year old who has asked for a facebook account, but i'm hesitant to add that responsibility to my stack of stuff. i would have to monitor her friend requests and other stuff and i'm just not ready for it. maybe i can put her off another year.

  8. This is excellent! Just shared it on my FB page. :)

  9. Thank you for your thorough post on fb. Great common-sense advice for parents.

  10. Interesting piece, thank you for giving me something to think about. I linked back to you from my blog, where I continued your thoughts and added my own.


  11. Great post for parents who are Facebook newbies!

    Slightly off-topic but just as important: Don't let kids choose inappropriate Facebook or email names, like cutiepie1997@gmail.com - it just SCREAMS '13-year-old girl with less-than-perfect judgement' and can attract the wrong kind of attention.


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