We knew the day was coming. “Mom and Dad, can I have a Facebook account?”
Silence. The two of us looked at each other waiting for the other one to speak first. More silence gave into that weird moment when no one has said anything for an uncomfortably long period of time.
A hundred stories were rushing through our minds and another thousand we’ve witnessed with teens and parents on Facebook. We’ve heard (and seen) it all! A single status update bringing shame to the family name before hundreds, if not thousands of people. A simple online comment causing real-time embarrassment and tension between family members. One quick, thoughtless Wall post erecting huge emotional walls in the parent-child relationship.
When we were writing Facebook and Your Marriage, parents of Facebooking teens were practically begging us to write a book on this topic. And now we know why. With whole families now participating in the same online social community, too much is at stake to just throw the kids on Facebook and hope for the best. Good parenting is part trust, part rule maker, and part rule enforcer. As parents, not only do we need to figure out what rules need to be made between the child and parent, but between the siblings as well. And then figure out what the potential consequences are.
After what seemed like an eternity, silence was broken. We looked into those hope-filled eyes and said, “We need to talk about it.” While this was no more than pushing pause on the conversation, we had bought ourselves enough time to discuss all the possible scenarios of having mom, dad, daughter/sister, and son/brother on Facebook.
What happens on Facebook can and will find itself being a major story plot in the family drama at home. And if that isn’t bad enough, your kid’s Facebook can and will likely be checked by prospective colleges and employers too. This is why it is imperative for parents and kids to talk about some common ground rules while participating in the new favorite (online) pastime called Facebook.
So we came up with some ground rules for our kids. But ground rules for Facebooking families are not just a one-way street. We discovered there was a need for parents to agree to some ground rules too. What happens if the kids break any of the ground rules? Let’s just say their Facebook friends won’t be seeing their little green dot for awhile.
To save ourselves a lot of headaches and to avoid Facebook-related conversations that include excuses like, “I didn’t know,” “I forgot,” and “You never said that,” we put the ground rules in writing. Having the parents and kids sign a Facebook Rules Agreement spells out the expectations, and the ground rules everyone will follow.
Facebook ground rules for parents:
- Be active on Facebook - You may not want to be, but for your kids’ sake, you need to be on Facebook. In fact, it is the best way to see what they’re into, who their friends are and what they’re really like when you’re not around. Believe us, kids “forget” that others can see what they post. We know some of our friends’ kids better than their parents because we see what they’re Facebooking about…and the parents would be shocked!
- Don’t parent kids on Facebook - You have the home court advantage to know what your teen should and should not be doing. Any real-time issues like chores, homework, grades, work, home-life problems need to be dealt with face-to-face rather than on Facebook. If they say or do something on Facebook that brings out the parent in you, remember to “talk, don’t type.”
- Give kids their space - There are whole websites devoted to the embarrassing posts and comments parents leave on their kids’ Facebook. Don’t humiliate your teen by posting baby pictures or updates that give their real-life and online friends plenty of teasing ammunition. It’s OK to engage with your kid from time-to-time on Facebook, but ultimately, your kids are not on it to spend more time with you.
- Set a Facebook curfew - Kids need boundaries, especially when there is a 24/7/365 party going on on Facebook. With Facebook access on computers, phones and play systems, it is way too easy for teenagers to lose sight of the amount of real time they’re spending in the online community. Set a time limit for their combined time on Facebook each day. Set a curfew for when their Facebook time starts and ends. And be sure to explain when it is not acceptable to be on Facebook (e.g. during meals, church, school, etc).
- Spot check their Wall, Friends, Likes and Inbox - As their parent, you need to know who your kid is interacting with, what pages and games they’re associated with, and what they’re doing on Facebook. Some of this you can do as a Facebook friend, but periodically, you’ll want to log on to their profile, scroll through their news feed and check the messages in their inbox. When you’re in their account, don’t post anything, erase anything, or pose like you’re them. If possible, do it with them in the room. That way if the chat box comes up, they can quickly deal with the real-time interruption. Spot checking their account adds a layer of accountability and gives you another vantage point into their world.
- Parents have the final say - Things on Facebook aren’t always what they seem. A simple “Like” of a funny statement can give outsiders full access to your child’s Facebook account. A Facebook page for a popular show can put your kid just one click away from some pretty raunchy stuff. All that to say, parents need to be proactive and if you say a Friend needs to be blocked, a page unliked, or a password changed…then so be it. Tell them your reasoning and make them take the action step. Sometimes parenting is about doing what’s right rather than what’s popular with your teenager.
- Talk offline about online experiences - Make a point of bringing up Facebook-related topics with your kid. Whether it’s a new feature or layout change by Facebook, or about a shared Facebook friend’s recent update, or how they’re advancing in a Facebook game…the more you talk offline about what is happening online, the better the chances are that they’ll turn to you when something happens online that made them uncomfortable or feel threatened. If it’s natural for parents and kids to talk face-to-face about Facebook, it makes it that much easier when they might really need your help with something that’s happening with someone on Facebook.
Facebook ground rules for kids:
- Parents must have the password - The password is the key to unlock the door for full access into your child’s Facebook profile. It must be shared with the parents. And only with the parents! This is essential for accountability and building trust in the relationship as it allows parents to spot check the news feed and inbox from time to time. If the password must be changed (and we recommend changing it every 60-90 days for security reasons), parents must know what it is immediately. To us, this is a non-negotiable for kids being on Facebook.
- Parents must be full access friends - Facebook has created a number of ways to help Facebookers protect themselves such as setting up friend lists, limiting what certain people can access and hiding certain parts of their profile from view. But when it comes to parents and their kids, not only must the parents and kids be Facebook friends, but the parents must be able to view as much as possible – pictures, videos, posts, updates, tags, everything. This creates a check-and-balance and keeps the surprises to a minimum.
- Kids are fully responsible for their Facebook - While kids can’t be responsible for the dumb things their Facebook friends post on their wall and news feed, your kids must be responsible for anything posted from their own profile. If they leave a public place and kept their Facebook logged on and somebody posts something acting like your kid (regardless if it’s inappropriate or not), your kid is responsible for it. If they allow a friend to use their Facebook profile to send messages out to people, your kid is responsible for it. Once something is posted, it can never be permanently removed. Hopefully this helps them think twice (or a third or fourth time) about allowing someone else to borrow their identity for a little while.
- Watch what is said because others are watching - What your kid posts is seen by everyone they’re friends with: family, coaches, youth leaders, teachers, family friends, neighbors and more. And if commented on by a Facebook friend, all their friends may see that too. So watch what is said: no swearing, no threats, and no innuendos. And watch who is talked about: no complaining about parents, no putting down siblings, no publicizing family spats. A good rule of thumb when posting anything is to ask, “What would happen if what I’m posting was posted on the Google home page for everyone to see?”
- Friend real people that are really known - Facebook is about connecting and reconnecting with people who are part of one’s past or present reality. There is no contest or award for “who can get the most Facebook friends.” Avoid friending people just because others have friended them. Also, don’t friend strangers. And don’t raid the parents’ friends either. The key question to ask when friending or considering a friend request is, “do I really trust this person to see the updates, the pictures and the information I post and not do something bad with them?”
- Keep personal information private -Kids are an open book and much more naïve about the world. There are real bad people in the world. Some bad people are using Facebook for bad purposes. Said bad people are hacking Facebook accounts to gain access to people’s private information and that of their Facebook friends. So, to be as safe as possible, don’t post personal information on Facebook (physical address, full birth date, place of employment, etc). Also, avoid updates such as, “Parents are gone. I’m home alone and bored,” or “Our family is gone on vacation for three weeks!” These kinds of updates can invite bad people to do bad things to a family member or the family’s home.
- If in doubt, ask the parents - Participating in an online social network opens up all kinds of new situations and scenarios for people to deal with. And sometimes the answer isn’t quite so clear. In some cases, the “right” solution can feel awkward or put you in a difficult place. What we have come to discover is that adults don’t always know how to deal with Facebook-related issues, how then can we expect our teenage kids to deal with them and do it correctly? Kids need a safe place to turn if a Facebook Friend is crossing a line, if an uncomfortable situation arises, or if they don’t know how to respond to a distressing message. That safe place should be their parents.