Are You Ready to Have a Child on Facebook?

Previously I have written about how to determine whether your child is ready for Facebook.  But what about us parents? How do we know when we are ready to parent a “Facebooker”?  Determining if you are ready, as a parent, to shoulder the responsibility of having a child with a Facebook account is perhaps even more important than determining if your child is ready.  After all, it is up to us to set the rules, set the boundaries, and – most importantly – set a good example for our children.

How do you know if you are ready?

  • Be an expert yourself. It is absolutely imperative that before you allow your child to set up a Facebook (or any other social networking) account, you must understand the technology yourself.  In fact, I recommend that all parents with children on Facebook maintain their own page – and check it often.  Not sure how to begin, start here.
  • Don’t break the rules. Check out the rules for using Facebook including the minimum age requirement – it’s 13.  If your child is under 13 and wants a Facebook page of their own, don’t do it (see above point about setting a good example).  Instead, set up a page for your family that you all can maintain together.  Think of it as on-the-job-training.
  • Set some guidelines. What are your family rules regarding Facebook use?  How often can your child be on the site?  Who can they be-friend (my advice: only people that they know relatively well), what sorts of things can they post (“I love my soccer team” is a great post, “My family and I will be out of state all weekend and we couldn’t find anyone to housesit” is not so good), What sorts of pictures are acceptable? What constitutes cyber-bullying and what will happen if they are bullied (or bully themselves)?  What are the grounds for loss of privileges (i.e., grades fall below a certain level)?  Are they allowed to access their account from a mobile device (i.e., smart phone, ipad) or can they only be on the site at home when you are around? Whatever guidelines you set, make sure you are consistent in enforcing them – and don’t forget to follow them yourself.
  • Move some furniture. I think one of the most important things we can do to make sure our kids are safe online is placing the computer where we can see it.  Perhaps that means it is in the kitchen or near the couch.  You should be able to glance at their screen often and easily.  If the computer is in their room, this might be tough.  Little fingers can move quickly when it comes to minimizing an inappropriate screen.
  • Be a good friend. If you decide to allow your child to set up their own account, insist that the two of you become friends.  Better yet, encourage them to become friends with other family members.  As noted above, part of having a child participate in the social networking world requires that you as a parent monitor their use of the technology.  Check out their posts, their “likes,” their pictures, where they’re tagged, and who they’re friending.
  • Turn it off. One of the things I notice frequently in my practice is that both adults and kids have a hard time turning off the technology around them.  Texting at dinner, making phone calls in the car, checking email at the dinner table – is it really necessary?  Talk to your kids about the importance of taking time off Facebook (and all technology) and set a “bedtime” for all devices.  And don’t forget to do it yourself, you might be surprised what happens to your stress level if you unplug on a regular basis.

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