Friday, 6 May 2011

Facebook Do's And Don'ts For Teens

I have to admit, I have been a huge Facebook fan ever since the site began allowing adults onto the site.  In fact, ever since I joined, I have been amazed by all of the connections I've made.  For me, the best thing about Facebook has been re-connecting with former elementary, high school and college friends who I had lost touch with over the years but was really excited to re-connect and see them again in person.  My experiences on the social networking site have been incredibly positive - but that's because I use Facebook as a means to share positive news, engage in conversations with friends and colleagues and Like everything from TV shows, to brands to celebrities to blog posts and more.

As a parent and anti-bullying advocate, I also know quite well about the dangers of Facebook.  If your kids are still tweens, then no matter how much they beg you to get an account, just say no.  I have plenty of friends who have allowed their kids to join the social networking site at 12, but I'm here to tell you, the legal age for a child to be on Facebook is 13 and there are many reasons why you may want to hold off even longer, but peer pressure may get the better of your child.
Here's the skinny on Facebook.  If used appropriately, it can be an incredible tool to connect like-minded teens together worldwide.  If you have a child who heads off to sleep-away camp in the summer and is pining for their friends, Facebook is an instant connector that can erase the distance between them. Facebook is also a terrific tool to connect kids who play the same sports, support charities or causes, share a love of music and much more.  The whole concept behind Facebook is to share your stories, photos and videos and support your friends.  But when you're a young teen, the dark side of the social networking site could also do a lot of psychological damage to their self esteem.  So before your child dives into the sea of social networking, here are my top 10 Facebook Do's and Don'ts for teens and their parents:

1.   DO:  When your 13 old joins Facebook, make sure they friend you.  You don't need to hover over their every move, but make sure your teen is aware that you will check their account from time to time to ensure they're engaging in appropriate conversations with friends.  Also, make sure you stay on top of the people they've friended - especially if adults try to friend your child.

2.   DON'T:  Post a revealing picture of yourself as your profile photo or on your wall.  While a teen may think a funny party pose or revealing image is only available for their friends to see, if they are applying to colleges, they should think again.  College admissions officers can oftentimes access the pages of their applicants - better safe than sorry - if the photo is questionable, don't post it!

3.   DO:  Ask another mom to get in touch with you if they see something inappropriate on your child's Facebook wall.  Since your young teen may friend your friends, it's actually an opportunity for you to inform your friends that if they catch something inappropriate on your kids' page, to raise a red flag and get in touch with you. 

4.   DON'T:  Instruct your child not to have an argument with another teen on their Facebook Wall.  While a teen may think their war of words is harmless, think again.  When you hurl insults on one another's walls all of their friends can see the conversation play out on their Facebook page as well.  If you're having a disagreement with a friend, take it offline and resolve your differences in private.

5.   DON'T:  If your child sets up a fake Facebook page, then revoke their privileges immediately.  I've frequently heard about this from fellow moms - a strict parent attempts to police their child and right under their nose, they set up another Facebook account under an alias and does whatever they'd like online.  While it's hard to find out if your child is trying to fake you out, your best bet is to have that conversation before they officially join Facebook.  Setting up a fake Facebook page is illegal and can also create legal problems for a child - especially if they use that page to cyberbully their peers.  

6.   DO:  If your child notices another child cyber-bullying one of their peers, DO encourage them to speak up.  Facebook now has instant controls in place where you can report someone for abuse if you believe their comment or email message is inappropriate.  Don’t just be a bystander - get involved and help put an end to cyber-bullying!

7.  DON'T stalk people on Facebook by attempting to chat with them.  Lately, a few of my younger Facebook friends have used the "chat" option to reach out to me and ask me to vote for them for a variety of contests.  This rule actually holds true for adults too since a few of my FB friends are pretty big offenders of cyber-chat stalking too.

8.   DO use Facebook to get the word out about important causes.  If your teen is spearheading  or participating in an event on behalf of a charity, by all means, have them share information about it on their Facebook page.  You can even use the event option to invite friends to participate and share on their own blogs.  Sharing Facebook posts that are positive and benefit others is always a good thing.

9.   DON'T ignore the warning signs if your teen gets upset after logging off their Facebook page.  If your child suddenly withdraws, seems out of sorts, angry or depressed, cyber-bullying could be the cause. It's very easy for teens to hide behind text messages and Facebook comments - but the hurt is still pretty raw.  It might be hard for your child to share what is going on in their world, but be there to listen, give advice (when asked) and provide a shoulder to lean on. 

10.  DO join Facebook!  If you're a parent and don't have a Facebook page, then what are you waiting for???   I know that the thought of going through life without a Facebook page for some seems absolutely absurd. Well, there are some people out there (a good friend of mine among this batch) who have yet to sign up for Facebook.  I'm here to tell you that you must sign up for Facebook so that you can always stay at least 3 steps ahead of your child.  If you know nothing about social networking, then you are already behind the eight ball.  Join the site, re-connect with old friends and navigate your way through Facebook before your teen gets their first account.  Trust me, you'll be glad you did!

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