When considered from the lens of parenting, I liken Facebook, and services of its ilk, to dust mites. It’d be awesome if I could eradicate them, but that’s not realistic. Instead, I try to look upon online services that are available to my kids as offering opportunities to further realize my parenting agenda. This post offers my top 10 tips for tapping this opportunity.
#1. Maintain a weekly dialogue with your child. Having weekly one-on-one time to discuss how your child’s life is going is an essential foundation for just about any parenting agenda. “What are the best thing and the worst things that happened today, even if they were minor?” “Who are your top three friends these days and what do you like about them?” “What’s it like to be in 7th grade these days?” (Click here for a blog entry that lists other potential conversation starters. Please also see Chapter One in my parenting book Working Parents, Thriving Families, for detailed coverage.)
#2. Limit sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day. This is the recommendation of several authoritative bodies. If a kid is plugged in more than this he may be missing out on other important activities (e.g., being physically active, doing academic work, engaging in extracurriculars, socializing face-to-face).
#3. Use the social networking mediums that your kid is using and link to your child. If your child uses Twitter discover what it can do for you and be sure to follow each other. If your child uses Facebook use it as well and friend each other. You also want to make sure your child doesn’t have two social networking accounts: the one you’re connected to and the one on which he goes rogue.
#4. Monitor your kid’s computer use. We want to strive for the middle ground. Over monitoring a successful and responsible child dampens the development of independence and can unduly tax a parent-child relationship. Under monitoring a child who is struggling, or who is putting herself into harmful situations, is obviously not a good idea either. This is where your world’s leading expertise of your child is essential to inform your steps. Regardless of the dosage of monitoring that you decide is advisable, programs that allow you to track your child’s computer use can be very helpful (e.g., www.spector.com/spectorpro.html, www.webwatchernow.com).
#5. Network with other parents and use parenting resources. Whenever you’re hanging out with other parents (e.g., on the sidelines of games, before a parent meeting starts) ask them what strategies they use. While you may hear from parents who seem misguided in their approach (e.g., washing their hands of a monitoring responsibility), others may have clever insights and ideas to share. There are also an abundance of online resources available for parents. (e.g. www.wiredkids.org, www.familyinternet.about.com, www.familysafemedia.com).
√ No swearing.
√ No discussions of sexual or illegal activity.
√ No threatening others.
√ No “friending” people above the age of (i.e., your 11 year old child’s 19 year old cousin may be super nice to her and a great person, but friending her on Facebook may afford your child access to inappropriate adult material, either on her cousin’s page or on the page of someone in her cousin’s network).
√ Under the “How You Connect” portion under “Privacy Settings,” make sure they are all set to “Friends.”
√ Public searches should be disabled on Facebook. This means that people cannot find your child’s page through internet searches. Under “Privacy Settings” click on “Apps and Websites,” then click on “Edit Settings” that is next to “Public Search.” Then uncheck the “Enable Public Search” box.
√ You must get others’ permission before posting his or her picture online. Depending on the age and maturity of your child you may also decide that you must also approve all pictures before they are posted; this would also allow you to determine if your child’s friend’s parents’ approval should be garnered.
#7. Role-play scenarios. This is an excerpt from a 2008 national study of the online experiences of kids aged 10-15, authored by Drs. Michele Ybarra and Kimberly Mitchell, that appeared in Pediatrics: “Fifteen percent of all of the youth reported an unwanted sexual solicitation online in the last year; 4% reported an incident on a social networking site specifically. Thirty-three percent reported an online harassment in the last year; 9% reported an incident on a social networking site specifically. Among targeted youth, solicitations were more commonly reported via instant messaging (43%) and in chat rooms (32%), and harassment was more commonly reported in instant messaging (55%) than through social networking sites (27% and 28%, respectively).” Given how common such experiences are we do well to train our kids how to respond. “Hunter what would you do if someone put on their Facebook page a hurtful lie about you?” “Aiden what would you say if someone asked you for your address?”
#8. Set up parental controls on computers that your child uses. This would include things like using browsers designed to block explicit content from kids (e.g., bumpercar, www.cybersitter.com), not allowing your child to covertly install software (i.e., through settings within the system software), and making sure that there are sufficient parental controls on your child’s other gear that can go online (e.g., cell phone, video game console, portable gaming unit). After you set up your controls offer a tech savvy 20-something person a gift card if he can try to circumvent your controls; offer a higher value gift card if he is successful and can show you how to install effective countermeasures.
#9. Make sure your child understands the limits of privacy on the internet. Colleges search Facebook pages for information, as do employers, volunteer organizations and other people who might be a gatekeeper for some experience, membership or standing that your child may desire in the future (e.g., I recently heard of a coach of a travel baseball team who rejected a kids application to play on the team because of what he found at that kids Facebook page). A good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t want the world to see it, think four times about posting it.
#10. Consider what you might do to promote the privacy of your family’s online experience. Each computer has an IP address that tells internet sites you visit where you’re located. However, there are services available that make it more challenging to do this (e.g., www.hidemyass.com, www.anonymizer.com). As a start you might read up on IPs and privacy (e.g., http://www.livinginternet.com/i/iw_ip.htm). Moreover, many websites will, without you knowing it, collect information from your computer. However, there is software available that allows you to approve or disapprove this activity (e.g., for Macs: www.littlesnitch.com; for Windows: www.zonealarm.com). Keep in mind that some have argued that Facebook’s true customers are not its users but the corporations to which it sells information about its users.
For other websites and resources please also see the “Further Reading and Viewing section of Chapter Three in Working Parents, Thriving Families, or the Chapter Three section at www.resilientyouth.com. You may also enjoy reading 10 Strategies If Your Child is Addicted to World of Warcraft (WOW).