As a journalist writing about families and technology, I’ve long encouraged parents to join the social networking site, Facebook. In the past, I’ve maintained that it would help parents better understand the technology their kids are using.
But lately I’ve noticed a worrying trend. Instead of parents doing a little lurking and some healthy supervising, they’re joining right in, posting messages and chatting with their children and their children’s friends.
It’s as if teens had been hanging out at the roller rink for a few years and suddenly, parents show up, strap on the rollerblades and start chilling with their teen’s pals. From a teen’s perspective, parents don’t belong in a roller rink. They belong at the grocery store. Or at home. Or waiting in the minivan outside of school. Close enough to check in occasionally or be available by phone, but far away enough that kids can be themselves.
If you’re on Facebook, have become a “friend” to your teen and are inviting her friends to join your network, you just might need to rethink this whole social networking business. Sure, we all want that privileged glance into our teens’ lives, and Facebook can be just that. But consideration, respect and a little space is the only way to get it.
So I’ve come up with a few guidelines for parents of teens on Facebook. These aren’t hard and fast rules — if your teen has a history of risky behaviour or emotional health issues, you’ll want to be extra vigilant about his or her Facebook use. But these tips can help you keep the lines of communication with your teen — on and off the computer — open and friendly.
► Let teens come to you. Whatever you do, don’t send a “friend request” to any of your child’s friends. If they want to invite you to be a friend, great. If not, let it go. It’s not your party. Find someone your own age to play Scramble (a game on Facebook) with.
► Post comments prudently. Imagine your child sitting around the lunch table telling friends she made the honour roll for the first time. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you show up and say, “Way to go, honey, I knew you could do it!” I smell a nerdy-mom moment in the making.
► Just listen. Most teens believe in the philosophy “the less obvious the parent, the better.” When you are on Facebook, pretend you are in the minivan driving your teen to the mall. Keep your eyes on the road and don’t comment on the conversation in the back.
► Don’t make comments about everything you see. And believe me, you’ll see a lot. Bad language. Suggestive photo poses. Links to crude humour. It can be hard to keep “mum.” But try. Remember, kids are talking this way on the bus and acting this way in school hallways, just as adolescents the world over have been doing for centuries.
If the bad language and links are coming from your child, by all means call them on it. But do it face-to-face and in private; never post a reprimand on their Facebook page. Remind them that what they post can come back to haunt them — maybe years from now or as early as next week.
► Watch what you post on your page, too. “Mom is tucking her cute kids into bed.” “Mom is wondering why teenagers are so difficult.” “Mom is getting ready for a romantic night with Dad.” “Mom just joined ‘Friends of Barry Manilow’.” Ewww. Enough said.
► Consider the consequences of your Facebook posts. Avoid posting embarrassing stories or pictures of your child on Facebook. And remember — your teen can read your page, too. So when you reconnect with college buddies who want to rehash the “good-ole-days”, your teen can read the details.
► Let them go if they boot you off. At some point, your child may want to “un-friend” you. Don’t take it personally. You’ve seen the conversation, the comments and her general behaviour online. If she’s acted responsibly and you’re comfortable with her behaviour, respect her request.
Kicking you out of her social circle is akin to asking you to drop her off at the corner so she can walk into the mall by herself. Unless she has been doing questionable things online, posting inappropriate comments or has a history of risky behaviour, let her go hang with her friends. And you go hang with yours.
You wouldn’t invite your child to your college reunion. And you don’t want to hang at the bowling alley with her and her teen friends. Keeping your social circles separate online makes sense.
Facebook is like any organization or club: it has its own lingo that can leave you baffled in the beginning. Why is someone trying to “poke“ you and why did they send you “flair“? If you’re just getting started on Facebook, here are a few terms that are useful to know:
Friend: This is a person you have invited to be part of your network of connections. Friends can look at your Facebook page and you can see theirs. In instant messaging, they are called buddies. Other social networks might call them contacts. To “make a friend”, you find the name of the friend on Facebook and send a “friend request”. The recipient of the request then gets a message that you want to be their friend and can accept the invitation or ignore it.
Poke: This is the same thing as a little hello. It’s meant to be like a tap on the shoulder or a little nudge from someone — in the same way you would nudge or tap someone if you were standing there beside them.
Wall: This is like your own personal bulletin board where people can post notes and comments to you and you can post responses. If you want to post a private message for someone — which only they can see — you use a feature called “wall to wall.”
Flair: This is an application (a little computer program) that allows you to send small buttons with words and graphics to friends. These are a lot like the little novelty buttons people pin to their jackets or collars. Facebook also has various applications that allow you to play online games with friends or send them virtual presents. Most of these are free.
How to sign up
Setting up an account on Facebook is very simple. It just requires an e-mail. Then you create your own password. That’s it. You can then take as much time as you like uploading photos, spending time putting information into your profile and looking up and connecting with friends. None of this takes a lot of time at all, but people find it very interesting and entertaining – at least at the beginning. There is absolutely no obligation to continue keeping your Facebook current. Some people are very active – others are not. The rate and content of your contributions is completely up to you.