The appeal of Facebook can be seen by both kids and adults alike. With a bit of strategic parental guidance, you can educate your kids about the potential hazards of the social network and give them the tools they need to protect themselves from online predators.
The Basics: protecting personal information
Facebook public-policy representative Nicky Jackson Colaco advises parents to sit down with their kids and talk about the importance of protecting one's online identity. Maintaining open communication with your children is the key to understanding exactly how they're using Facebook.
"I'd never send my son onto the football field without pads and knowledge of the game," Colaco says, "and it's exactly the same with Facebook."
If you have a Facebook profile, consider sending your child a friend request - not necessarily as a spying tool, but to remind your child of your own online presence. If you don't have a Facebook account, ask your child to show you their profile. It helps to familiarise yourself as much as possible with the site's privacy controls and other settings, because the more you know about Facebook, the better equipped you can be if something serious ever arises.
It's also a good idea to take a look at your child's photos and wall posts to make sure they are age appropriate. Remind your child that the internet in general, but especially Facebook, is not a kids-only zone, and that adults can see what's on their profile as well. Maintaining an appropriate online presence as a teenager will help your child build a respectable online footprint. Remember: the internet never forgets.
If your kid really has something to hide, they might make a Facebook profile behind your back, or have one account that's parent-friendly and a separate account for their friends. If they show you a profile that seems skimpy on content, that could be a red flag. That's where PC and web-monitoring tools could come into play (see the Monitoring Behaviour section).
Finally, go over Facebook's privacy settings with your child, and show them how to activate the highest level of security. Emphasise that Facebook is a place for friends and not strangers, and then change their profile to 'friends only'. Again, remind your child to be wary of what they post in their status updates, since oversharing online can lead to consequences in the real world.
"As the site gets bigger, it's important to have everyone working together - us, parents, kids, our safety advisory board - to make sure the site remains a safe place," Colaco says.
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