The Parents’ Guide to Facebook

There’s a new rite of passage for American children. You turn 13, and you get a Facebook account.

It’s a frightening prospect for millions of parents, many of whom fall into one of two camps:

So what do you do when your child asks you for permission to get on Facebook?

I recently held a workshop on this topic for parents of sixth graders in our church, and here are some of the best practices we discussed.

1 Get on there first

I know, I know. You’ve been avoiding Facebook for half a decade and simply do not have the time. The tough lesson here is that the single best thing you can do to understand the platform is to explore it for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be relying on your child’s understanding of Facebook to set the ground rules. Not convinced? At the very least, study up on the basics.

2 Let it happen on your terms

When one child gets on, all her friends will want to follow suit — even if they’re not yet 13. Make it clear that you will decide when your child is ready to join a social network, and that when it happens, you will be a part of the process.

3 Be hands-on in the beginning

When your child is ready to join, sit down with him and help create the account. Carefully select the privacy settings together. Get his login and password or have him “friend” you, so that you can monitor how he’s using the platform and coach him along the way.

4 Be present, but don’t hover

There’s a delicate balance you’ll need to maintain — it’s fine to check in on your child’s page regularly, but if you comment on her posts frequently, that’s a sure-fire way to get un-friended or lose her trust.

5 Set boundaries

Anyone who’s on Facebook will tell you — social media can be addicting. Set clear expectations about when and where children can interact online (e.g., no phones at the dinner table or no Internet use in your room after bedtime.) Don’t be afraid to take away Facebook privileges for poor grades or behavior. Make sure you’re setting a good example for your child to follow.

6 Help your child stay safe

In addition to the dangers of account hijacking, phony contests, and identify theft, children also may encounter bullies or predators online. Make sure you child knows:

  • Never accept friend requests from strangers.
  • Never agree to meet someone you only know online in the real world.
  • Do not open links to contests, promotions, or videos, unless you’re sure the source is legitimate. Many scams will appear to be shared by people you know.
  • Do not allow apps permission to access your personal information.

As an added precaution, it’s always a good idea to keep your home computer in a family area and employ Internet filters.

7 Coach your child on what’s appropriate

Keeping it clean” online is perhaps the most difficult lesson to impart to children. They must learn that everything that is posted online is public and permanent. Facebook’s new Timeline format has made it easier than ever to view every embarrassing post, photo, and comment. What your daughter posts today will be viewed by college admissions officers, employers, and clients in the future. Remind her that once it’s online, it can never truly be taken back.

8 Watch out for warning signs

You’ve reinforced how important it is for your child to be polite online, but you can count on him encountering people who are downright cruel. For a child with a fragile ego, this can be devastating. Social media “rewards” audacious, outlandish behavior, thus exposing children to emotional danger. Case in point: The epidemic of young girls posting YouTube videos of themselves, asking the world, “Am I pretty or ugly?

9 Know your kid

Every child is different. You understand better than anyone what guidance your child will need and how he will respond. Adapt these suggestions to best suit your family.

Is your teenager already on Facebook? What advice would you give to other parents?

Want to chat more about introducing young people to social media? Give me a call at 919-858-6914 or shoot us an email. I’d love to have a conversation with you.