Facebook safety handbook for parents
Our almost 12-year-old daughter has been asking about having a Facebook account for months. Apparently all her friends have accounts and she's feeling left out, peer pressure and all. Of course her safety is our main concern so I've promised to explore the settings to see if we can configure an account that's secure for her. The settings are difficult to find and somewhat confusing but thanks to some good folks at ConnectSafely.org parents now have some instructions that can help.
A new "Parent's Guide to Facebook," written by Anne Collier and Larry Magid, has been released by ConnectSafely.org and iKeepSafe.org. The 32-page booklet, available for download, contains step-by-step instructions and illustrations with parenting points on safety, privacy, and reputation protection. The instructions include both cellphone and computer-based use of Facebook. They also have a series of at-a-glance charts that help you quickly navigate the settings on your accounts to optimize security.
One of the first things they mention is Facebook's minimum age of 13. To set up an account for our daughter we would have to lie about her age. Many people have done this for their kids and the authors recommend against it, saying Facebook is intended for teens and above. But really, it seems like a CYA move on the part of Facebook. Here's an excerpt:
We strongly recommend against anyone lying about his or her age. There are both legal and child-development reasons why Facebook restricts membership to people 13 and older. In addition to complying with U.S. law (called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires verifiable parental permission before a child under 13 can disclose personally identifying information), Facebook has created an environment designed only for teenagers and adults. The site's rules and policies are also aimed at teens and adults. Even more important, the protections and safety education that Facebook has in place are designed for people 13 and older.
Citing a survey from July 2010, the authors point out that 37% of 10 to 12-years-olds are on Facebook (there's the peer pressure), meaning their parents lied about their age to set up those accounts. For this group specifically they recommend careful configuration of privacy settings and parental monitoring.
For our 17-yeard-old we've found Facebook to be a good way to get a glimpse into parts of his life we don't normally see so that we can better monitor and understand the pressures he faces and just know when he's had a bad day. It provides us with opportunities to ask questions when he comes from school and opens up some good conversation. The authors make this point as well:
Facebook itself can be a great parenting tool. It can give you a rare window into your children's social lives as well as help you stay informed about their use of the site. In fact, ask your kids to show you how to set Facebook’s privacy and safety features. Not only will you learn more about Facebook, you’ll see how much they know about using the site wisely. If they haven't thought much about the privacy settings, use this guide to go through them together. After that, consider creating your own account on Facebook so you can “friend” your child. That’s probably the best “monitoring tool” you could use. Many parents do. But do be careful about writing on their “wall” (Facebook page) or commenting on what they post; that might embarrass them, which can create an unnecessary unwanted communication barrier between you and your child.
I'm still not sure if we'll be setting up an account for our daughter before she's 13, but using these tools and tips I feel better equipped if we decide to give it a try. Even so it still scares me. I'm really careful and my account has been hacked twice. At least once a month I receive an unwanted friend request from someone in Sri Lanka with a name like Sweetness. But even when she was 8 and using the Build-a-Bear and Webkinz sites things could have happened. The key is constant monitoring and conversation. No security settings will ever take the place of simply talking to your child.