Facebook is the most utilized social networking site world wide with more than 750 million users. That’s right, 750 million! The magic age for kids to be considered Facebook legal is 13. But of Facebook’s current users, an estimated 7.5 million are under the age of 13. And since there aren’t any real requirements for proving your age, it doesn’t take much to open up an account once you’re computer literate (which most of our kids are by the age of ten)!
This past month I asked you to share your Facebook age limits with me, and the results of this very non-scientific poll were pretty evenly split. 1/3 of you made your kids wait until they were 13 to join, 1/3 let your kids join before they were 13, and 1/3 made your kids wait to join even after they turned 13. Only 1 vote was cast from a parent who let their child join Facebook before they were 10.
These findings and those from actual scientific polls show us what we’ve known all along. Kids are on Facebook. Yours might not be there yet, but they probably will be someday. Now more than ever parents need to arm themselves with information about how to keep their children safe on social media sites like Facebook that were designed for adults but are being used by kids.
When and if you decide to allow your child to open a Facebook account, talk with them about the pros and cons of social media. Then try some of these tips to help keep them as safe as possible:
Know your child’s Facebook password. I know some of you might argue that this is like making them give you the key to their diary or something. But I disagree. Their diary is hidden away in their closet or under their mattress. It is personal for only them to read. Facebook is their online presence. What they say or do online can have a lasting impact on their reputation and their safety. Something they post or a picture they are tagged in by a friend can haunt them for the rest of their lives. It’s that simple. Let them keep the key to their diary, but if they’re on Facebook then as a parent you need to know their password.
Be their Facebook friend. Okay, so you’re their parent not their friend. I understand. But as a parent you need to know what’s going on in their lives. You need to monitor their online activity in the same way you’d keep an eye on them in real life. There’s no better way to do that than to be their friend on Facebook. Yes, that means you’re going to need to keep your own Facebook profile PG, but if you’re a parent then that’s something you might want to consider doing anyway!
Monitor their friend list. No, I don’t mean you need to stalk everyone they know. But periodically check their list and see who they are friends with. I’d suggest telling them that they are only allowed to be friends with people they actually know in real life. Seems logical to me, but sometimes kids don’t think entirely logically. So, once you’ve given them some common sense advice on who not to friend, monitor their list and make sure they haven’t friended a total stranger.
Manage their privacy settings carefully. The goal of Facebook is to help people connect. To do that, they prefer for users to be as open as possible within the Facebook world to make sharing easier. But for kids, you should consider being much more restrictive than you would be for adults. To do this log in as your child (see why you need the password?) and go to Account and then Privacy Settings. There you will find two options, Sharing on Facebook and Connecting on Facebook. For Sharing on Facebook, I suggest setting it all as “Friends Only” until you determine that your child is ready for more. For Connecting on Facebook, select View Settings. I’d be as restrictive as possible for as long as you can, selecting “Friends Only” with one exception. For who can “Send you Friend Requests” I’d choose “Friends of Friends.” When you’ve got it set up the way you’d like it, select Preview my Profile for a look at how your child’s profile looks to most people on Facebook.
Keep up with new Facebook features. Facebook is famous for rolling out the latest and greatest technology to help us connect with even more people more efficiently than ever before. That’s all well and good, but some of that technology is a little questionable when kids are involved. Two recent examples are facial recognition and check-ins. Facebook has developed a facial recognition program so when friends upload pictures that you are in, you are identified by your facial features to make tagging for your friends easier. You can opt out of this feature by going to Account/Privacy Settings and choosing Customize Settings. Just disable the feature Suggest photos of me to friends. I’m also not a fan of letting friends check your kids in to places. You can disable this feature the same way under Friends can check me in to Places. Not necessary at all for kiddos.
Facebook safety for kids (and parents) can be overwhelming. I’m know, I’m right there with you. But parents today have to be diligent about keeping kids safe online. Our kids are there, we’ve got to be too.