As parents of a tween, it’s always helpful to try to stay ahead of the curve so that you can understand what your child is getting involved in and be prepared to determine it’s appropriateness. If you’re like many, your pre-teen probably knows more about social networking than you do (the first clue to the technology fast track was when your tween changed your settings on your cell phone). If you already have a Facebook account and want to get a better understanding of how to use Facebook effectively (and how your tween might use Facebook), an important step is to gain a solid understanding of the various settings you can choose as a part of your profile. The settings are, in essence, the boundaries that you choose to define your “appearance” on Facebook. If you don’t already have a Facebook account and would like to see what the buzz is about, check outFacebook 101 for Parents of Tweens for information on how to get started.
One of the best pieces of advice we can offer to a new Facebook user is to test the waters (once you’ve friended someone who will act as your guinea pig!). Get a good sense of what happens when you take certain actions. As long as you’re interacting with a trusted friend, you’ll begin to see how the communications flow works. This kind of understanding will give you some good information to make informed settings decisions that will meet your needs.
Not surprising, the most often cited reason for people not participating inFacebook is that they have privacy concerns. When it comes to privacy, you have a few philosophical decisions to make. Either you limit the information you post, or you include a good amount of information and utilize Facebook’s privacy preferences. Or you could do some of both. Not unlike getting comfortable paying your bills online, there’s a leap of faith to entrust Facebook with your personal information. Since trust and integrity are integral to Facebook’s reputation, the company puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of both.
Once signed in, click Settings in the upper right hand corner and select Privacy Settings. Virtually every aspect of the information you provided about yourself and what you post becomes your choice of whether it can be viewed by others. This includes: Profile, Basic Info, Personal Info, Status and Links, Photos Tagged of You, Videos Tagged of You, Walls Posts, Education Info and Work Info. You can also select who gets to view any of this information from your profile, including: Everyone, My Network and Friends, Friends of Friends, and Only Friends. Further, you can customize your profile to exclude specific people (this is the setting you don’t want your tween to select, i.e., excluding you!) from various aspects of your profile and postings. While making a determination of who sees what, think about all of the potential viewers before selecting “everyone” from the menu (i.e., child, spouse, employer, potential friends, search engines…literally, everyone!).
The more information you include in your public profile, the greater the chance of being “found” (great if you’re trying to connect with old friends, not-so-great if you want to stay incognito!). It’s helpful that you can check to see how you appear to others by typing in a friend’s name in the indicated box on the same page; you’ll then be able to view what they see about you.
It’s important to note that you have, through the Settings and Privacy path, the ability to block specific people from finding/seeing you on Facebook. When someone is on your Block list, they can’t search for you on Facebook (and therefore can’t friend you); they can’t write on your wall and they can’t write a message to you. And, they won’t be able to see what you’ve written on someone’s wall or anywhere else on the site.
Setting Tween Boundaries
Once you’re up-to-speed, in thinking through your comfort level with your tween’s use of Facebook, there are several factors that you’ll want to consider and be prepared to address with your pre-teen, such as:
- If your pre-teen is under 13, he/she will have to falsely claim to be at least 13 to get an account. This is important because, if you’re OK with letting your tween confirm an older age during the sign-up process, it’s worth a discussion about when it’s OK and when it’s not OK to falsely state information (which, of course, opens up a whole can of worms, doesn’t it?!?)
- Will you require your pre-teen to friend you so that you can see the type of communication taking place among his/her friends? If you believe this is important, and many people do, you need to decide how firm you’ll be with your “request.” Friending your tween will enable you to access their profile, photo albums and wall (where others post comments). Some parents require being friended as a quid pro quo for their pre-teen’s opportunity to have a Facebook account. Your tween may heartily resist friending you, claiming that other kids don’t need to. Be prepared. FYI, once your tween becomes proficient on Facebook, they’ll likely discover that they can limit the data you see from their profile (just as you can limit theirs); hopefully they won’t figure this part out too soon. By the way, you should also know that you can be “un-friended” without notification. All you need to do is: click on the person’s profile, go toward the bottom of the page (left column) and click “Remove from Friends.” If you are friended with your tween, you might want to check periodically to make sure you haven’t been un-friended!
- Will you allow your tween to post (and tag) photos? Putting a name with a picture is a scary idea for many parents. All you need is an address or a commonplace location and there could be an element of familiarity that makes someone seem harmless to an unsuspecting tween. In actuality, however, privacy settings can ensure that only friends can see the details of yours/their tagged photos. It depends on your level of comfort.
- How much time will you allow your pre-teen to spend on Facebook each day/week? This can be tricky. Some pre-teens have to carefully manage overall technology screen time. Others have a brief fascination and move on. It’s an individual tween/family decision of course, but might be addressed under the broader consideration that includes all technology. As one parent pointed out, “I don’t mind that my tween has a DS, a Wii, and participates in social networking…at least I have a carrot or stick to get them to follow the rules!”
- Who will you friend among your tween’s peers? The expert consensus is to let your tween’s friends and children of your friends send you the “friending” invitations. That way, except for your own child, you won’t be interfering (and heaven forbid, cause your tween embarrassment!). Also, of note, once you have your tween and his/her friends in your circle, you can no longer “speak” without a filter. So, keep that in mind as you post your quips!
Features and Jargon
Newsfeed – the Newsfeed is located on the home page of your profile. It updates you about your friends‘ activities via their postings and profile changes. You can also have a chance to comment on your friends‘ activities. Others can comment on your comments, and so on! There are several settings options related to the Newsfeed that can again be accessed through Settings and Privacy Settings.
Wall Posting – think of wall posting as the sharing of public comments that you might post on a bulletin board. They’re also helpful for sharing links and videos appropriate for a broad audience. Many of us have experienced the misfortune of sending an email that was misinterpreted; perhaps something you thought was funny was interpreted as angry or your wording was too bossy or worse! The same can happen with Facebook. Keep in mind that changes to your profile picture, edits to your information and uploaded pictures, links and videos will often prompt comments to your wall from your friends. Generally, in your communications, be careful about how you “sound” and, whatever you do, don’t write anything that would embarrass your tween!
Sending Messages and Chat – the Message and Chat features functions much the same way as email and instant messaging in general. It’s between you and yourfriend.
Groups – Facebook users can choose to join any number of Facebook groups. Some may choose groups that are silly (fans of a YouTube Video), others may chose groups based upon an affiliation (fans of Abercrombie). Some may be chosen based on reality and others may be chosen based on aspiration. If you don’t like the group your tween has chosen to be a part of, it might be worth a conversation to understand his/her interest that particular group.
Pokes – “You’ve been poked. Do you want to poke back?” Pokes are silly gestures that really do nothing except point out to the Pokee that you’re connecting.
Quizzes – some people are prolific quiz takers. Are you really interested to share, “What famous literary character are you most like?” or “Which college stereotype are you”? If you like the quizzes, just be sure that you don’t include a quiz like “What’s Your Kissing Style”? It’s probably too much information and will surely embarrass your tween!
Don’t Wave Your “Freak Flag”
A big parent no-no is to express too much on Facebook! For example, photos of yourself or embarrassing photos of your tween (at any point in his/her life!) will likely put your pre-teen over the top. If you do choose to let photos be tagged, your tween’s friends will get notice that there’s a new photo of him/her online. Likewise, too much information on walls and other postings could not only cause your pre-teen to shudder, you may have professional connections that would be awkward!
One way to stay abreast of issues that arise and new updates on Facebook is to periodically search on Google or another search engine if you have any questions. You’d be surprised what a search such as “Facebook privacy” can reveal. Or if you have a concern about an issue in the news, just search it online and get some more information. Also, the Help Center along the bottom of the page is a great tool to learn more about functionality.
And, don’t forget to enjoy the fun part of social networking!
Last week, a Long Island high school senior committed suicide, and the website Formspring.me is suspected as a cause. Yet most parents don’t even know it exists. Formspring is the latest cyberscourge for teens. It lets you open an account and allows your anonymous audience – usually your classmates – to communicate with brutal honesty. By which I mean breathtaking cruelty.
Formspring takes cybercruelty to a new low by making it appear consensual. You sign up for your own account, literally inviting others to bash you with their “honest” opinions. Because it appears consensual, it no longer seems like cybercruelty at all. It just becomes another avenue for teens to communicate, and it desensitizes them to what they’re doing.
“I hate you,” writes one peer.
“You’re slutty,” opines another.
Account holders are always able to respond, and most act as if they don’t care.
“I’d f*** you,” muses one.
“thanks I mean very blunt but still flattering,” responds the account holder.
Remember, these are often friends writing the comments. To wit:
“I’ve known you for a long time. you’re not even that good at soccer. you just had one really good season…”
As you might expect, cyberbombs like this usually launch the account holder into an extended freak out about who could have written it. Imagine walking the halls or sitting in class, never knowing who is saying what on your Formspring. Not exactly conducive to good focus on your studies, if you get my drift.
I suspect girls are especially vulnerable to Formspring for several reasons:
- Most girls are passionately invested in their friendships and what others think of them. At the same time, they constantly second guess their peers about what they really think and mean. As I showed in The Curse of the Good Girl, the ubiquity of “just kidding” and the pressure to keep friendships conflict-free force lots of truth underground. Girls know it. Formspring gives you a perverse chance to “really find out what others think of you.”
- Many girls define social success as being liked by everyone. Despite my best efforts as a speaker, educator and mentor to tell girls that it just ain’t gonna happen, Formspring lets hope spring eternal: you can open an account and maybe, just maybe, you won’t get a mean comment. You’ll be that girl who everyone really loves!
There is zero, and I mean zero, value in this website and no girl or boy should spend a minute on it. Formspring creates unnecessary emotional risks. It legitimizes cybercruelty and divorces kids from responsibility for their words. You can pretty much file Formspring along with wouldn’t-it-be-fun-to-stand-on the-railroad-tracks-and-jump-right-before-the-train-comes and I’m-sure-no-one-will-notice-if-I-just-pocket-this-one-mascara.
So what to do? Here’s what I suggest. Start a conversation with your daughter about Formspring. Ask her if people at school use it (don’t start off by grilling her about what she does or she may scare and fly away). Ask her what she thinks of it. Then ask her if she uses it.
If she says yes, tell her she’s banned for life from the website. Period. Here’s what I tell kids when I suggest they stop using it:
- It’s an invitation for people to be evil to each other without taking responsibility, which means people will exaggerate and even outright lie just to hurt you.
- By inviting people to say harmful things to you, and spending time reading about it, you disrespect yourself.
- There will always be haters. You will never be someone who is 100% liked by everyone. That doesn’t mean you need to set up a website to catalog who those people are. Focus on the relationships that bring you happiness and security, not people who tear you down.
Even if your daughter says no one has ever said anything mean to her, hold your ground. It’s only a matter of time.
If your daughter denies having an account, open your own account here (it’s very easy) and begin searching for your daughter by her name. Most kids include their full names in their accounts.
If you know me, you know I’m not in the habit of telling you to go behind your kid’s back. You can imagine how dangerous I find this website if I’m urging you to do it at all.