You’re not the only parent who worries about what your teen may be up to online. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 70 percent of parents say they are concerned about their teenager’s online behavior and its affects on their future. Monitoring your teen’s online activity on social networking sites like Facebook can help you minimize your teen’s online risk. Though it may be tempting to monitor in secret, talking to your teen about your plans establishes trust and opens the lines of communication.
Set up your teen’s Facebook account together so that you can help set her privacy controls. Set up a shared email address for Facebook correspondence so that you’ll see any messages your teen gets through Facebook and know if she changes her contact email address or password. Let your teen know that you’ll be checking the messages in your shared account occasionally. Keep your teen’s Facebook password, and let her know that you’ll be checking her page occasionally, too. If your teen is concerned about her privacy, remind her that this is a good time to learn that there is no real expectation of privacy online, suggests technology blogger Rebecca Levey in an interview with NPR.
Add your teen as a friend on Facebook, and ask her to add you as her friend. If you don’t have your own Facebook account, set one up now, and check your teen’s Facebook page regularly. When you check your Facebook account, you can view your teen’s page and read her posts and her friends’ comments.
Make a point to check your teen’s Facebook page and messages on a regular basis, and talk to her about things you’ve seen. Say “Everyone seems really excited about the basketball game this weekend,” or “I’m proud of you for doing so well on your Spanish test -- it seems like a lot of the other kids had a tough time with it.” Ask about new friends -- “Who is Jack Smith? I don’t think I’ve met him, but I see him commenting on a lot of your posts.”
Set rules about what information your teen can share on Facebook and how much time she can spend on the site, make clear consequences for breaking the rules and enforce them consistently. If you see your teen making questionable posts -- ones that seem to share too much information or that paint her in a negative light -- remind her how important it is to be mindful of her online presence, recommend Anne Collier and Larry Magid, co-founders of ConnectSafely.org, in their booklet “A Parents’ Guide to Facebook.”
Consider using free online parental control software, that lets you track your teen’s activity online, highlighting any potentially problematic sites or behaviors.
Make sure your teenager understands that information you share online never really goes away. Look for news stories about people who’ve been fired or run into problems because of information they shared through social media, and remind your teen that the same could happen to her.
Help your teen set up her account to take advantage of the extra protection Facebook offers for users between age 13 and 17. If teens enter their birthday year when they sign up, Facebook will make sure only their Facebook friends, networks and friends of friends can see what they post, unless you broaden the privacy settings. It also hides teens’ posts from public searches and keeps their locations private.
It may be tempting to let your pre-teen sign up for Facebook, but wait until he turns 13. If you want your teen to follow the rules, set a good example by following them with him.