How to be a good parent to your kids when they’re on Facebook

I’ve talked to loads of parents about Facebook, and I sense a real fear. Many parents don’t really understand it and either ban it or turn a blind eye. It’s my aim in this post to address the concerns of these parents and give some nice, practical tips.

What is Facebook?

Facebook is a free website that anyone can join so that they can talk to their friends. It’s supported by highly targeted ads – and this is the key to its success.
I’m going to use a metaphor to talk about Facebook, so bear with me.
Facebook is a shopping mall. Kids go there because their friends are there. They tell jokes, share photos, talk about their favourite things, play computer games and meet new people.
At a mall, kids will interact with their friends and meet new friends. This is all very healthy. However, you’ll meet all sorts of people at a mall. Some will hurt you. I think you know what I’m talking about.
What I want to draw your attention to is this: Would you ever drop your 13-year-old off at a mall that you’ve never been to, and have no intention of visiting? No.
If you’ve never been there, then that’s what you’re doing.
What you need to know about how Facebook works
There are many aspects to Facebook, but there are two devices that you need to know: “friends” and “likes.”
Friends are exactly that. I ask to be your friend, you agree and we then have the ability to share together. There’s a lot more to it – and there are dozens of exceptions but that’s the general idea.
“Likes” are a rating device. One of your friends might post a picture – and then you press the “like” button. Your other friends can see who’s liked what this builds a catalogue of popular items.
But there’s slightly more to it than this. I might make a Facebook page called “Chocolate.” All my friends, and their friends like it (what’s not to like about chocolate?). This becomes a forum for extolling the virtues of chocolate.
But I also might make a page called “People who hate Springfield High School.” This then becomes a hate forum. This is the number one thing you need to look out for as a parent. There are hate pages set up about shops, schools, fashion labels, tv shows, teachers, students in you child’s class…
I’m sure you can see that this is grotesquely immoral.

The age restriction

Facebook won’t let you sign up if your date of birth indicates that you’re under 13. You’ll find lots of kids who lied about their age on Facebook so they could join the fun. This is disturbing.

Suggestion number 1 – have a very open dialogue

This idea is for those who don’t want to be on Facebook. It relies on a very transparent relationship with your teen – one that not all of us enjoy.
Sit with your teen for a short, 2 minute period everyday and talk about:
– who their friends are – have you met them? Are they being nice to each other or is there bullying going on?
– what are they liking – hate pages? Objectionable material?

Suggestion number 2 – join Facebook and immerse yourself

This what I do. This is easier than being the “parent over shoulder” because it doesn’t depend on meeting with your kid at a particular time.
– join Facebook if you haven’t already
– get used to the friending and liking devices
– try and friend as many of your child’s friends as you can – particularly those who they talk about a lot – close relationships.
– DON’T COMMENT ON ANYTHING! If you saw your teen at the mall, would you embarrass them by running up to them and joining in on the conversation?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree? Do you have better ideas? Do you feel really worried now, or are you less concerned?

There’s so much to say about Facebook, but what I wanted to do here is to provide a simple guide for parents.


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2 Comments to “How to be a good parent to your kids when they’re on Facebook”

  1. Amiria 9 April 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    Hey Steve,
    Great blog. Loved the line in this post about it not being appropriate to comment on your children’s FB conversations. This made me laugh out loud. I have 30 year old friends who wish their parents knew this rule. 😛

    • Steve Voisey 27 April 2012 at 8:03 pm #

      Thanks, Amiria.
      It’s just so hard for some people to know what to do with Facebook. It’s a completely new social setting. You know how to act at birthday party, or sports club meeting, or funeral, or court hearing. But Facebook is a new setting.

      PS: I always roll the R in you name, even when I type. Great to catchup.

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