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Keeping Your Kids Safe on Facebook

More than 7 million Facebook users are under the age of 13

The popularity of Facebook has caught on because of the ease of the website to share pictures, connect with friends and create your own image.  It’s appealing to adults as well as teens, and offers a whole new challenge for parents.

When we were young, we had one TV, one phone and our parents could rest easy once we were home. With the electronic world these days, that is no longer true. While Facebook can be a social confidence builder, it’s important that children be taught the rules of electronic communication and the risks associated with it.

Consumer Reports recently found that there are 7.5 million children under 13 on Facebook. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act mandates that websites that collect information about users aren't allowed to sign on anyone under the age of 13. Obviously it didn’t take our whiz kids much to figure out that there is nothing in place to prevent that from happening.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks kids under 13 should be allowed on Facebook because of the educational potential.

But what about the potentially negative implications? In the same survey, it was estimated that a million children were harassed, threatened or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying in the past year.

  • Personal safety is a main concern, so make sure your children and teens are using the maximum privacy settings. Simply allowing “friends of friends” to view your profile may open up the average user’s information to nearly 17,000 people.
  • Make sure kids know the risks and understand not to post anything personal such as address, school, phone number or any information such as a movie or event they may be attending on a certain date.
  • Students shouldn’t “friend” anyone who they don’t know personally. Many people are not who they claim to be and use social networking sites to find out personal information to be used later.

OK, so you have the safety talk and you think your kids are fine online. But, in addition to the safety risks, there are social implications that can be nearly as devastating.

Anything they post, or their friends post about them, can come back to haunt them now and later. Nothing mean, distasteful, or harmful should ever be put in writing.  Basically, follow the rule and don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read— she’s on Facebook, too.  

I recently found my daughter’s account on Facebook and it was cute and tasteful, but didn’t appear to be used often. When I asked her about it, she said it was set up at a friend’s house and someone else’s email was used to control it. After freaking out, I explained to her why that was a bad idea because that person could be saying and posting things to her account that people would assume came from her. Even if they were best friends now, one overdramatized incident in middle school could be very harmful to her social status, so we deleted that account.

Colleges, clubs and employers are checking sites like Facebook to make decisions regarding admittance or employment, and if someone sees something that you wrote or was written about you is not appropriate, you may be turned down. Being out of a job or scholarship may not register with younger children, but all Facebook users need to know that there may be social consequences to their electronic behavior. The problem is that they may not be mature enough to handle them.

With in-your-face friends' tallies, happy pictures, status updates and photo tags, Facebook may contribute to a sense of not belonging in teens. There even have been a few suicides linked to bullying on Facebook in the news recently, so it’s not an overparenting issue, but a serious one.

Social networking and Facebook can be very positive for tweens and teens where they can learn how to share their voice, find themselves, connect with friends and more. As parents, we need to explain the rules, risks, and make sure they have enough responsibility to use something with as much power as electronic communication can have.  

Tracy Fedkoe June 02, 2011 at 02:19 PM
Facebook recently developed a Family Safety Center with tips for online safety. Check it out. http://www.facebook.com/help/?search=family+safety+center#!/safety/

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