I’m going to start this post with the stated assumption that you want to be the best parent you can be and that you are trying to raise teens who are faithful to the character of Christ. We need to start here because I’m going to be blunt about what wise parenting looks like on Facebook. This bluntness should be acceptable to those who agree with my starting assumptions. If you disagree with something I say, I encourage you air it out in the comments or to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the steps you can take to become the best Facebook parent possible.
Step 1: Get a Facebook account and use it frequently. You wouldn’t let your kids spend extended periods of time with a bunch of people you’ve never met, right? If they ask to go to the new cool hangout spot, you’re going to find out what goes on there first, right? The same should be true of Facebook. Your kids are spending a LOT of time on Facebook, so you need to be there as well. If you don’t have a Facebook account, they’re free, and you can sign up here. If you don’t have an account, stop reading, get an account, then come back and read on. We’ll wait…
Step 2: Once you’re on Facebook, make your kids friend you. This is not an option; it’s a requirement of them keeping their Facebook account. This one simple step opens most of their online life to you. By simply “friending” your kids, you can see their posts, their likes, the comments they make on their friends’ walls, the comments their friends make on your kids’ walls, what pictures they post and are tagged in, their relationship status, who their friends are, and all sorts of other things. If your goal is keeping your kids out of trouble, this will help. If your goal is getting to know your kids better so you can be closer to them, this will be a gold mine!
Step 3: The next step is getting your kids’ username and password. Again, this is not optional. If your kids have Facebook account, you have the password. Period. Once you have the password, log into their account occasionally and check up on them. When you log in, you’re briefly looking at three things. 1) Is the password they gave you still correct. 2) Are there any wall posts they’ve been making that have had privacy restrictions that you couldn’t see as their friend. 3) What are they sending in private messages. Of those concerns, the third is the most important. Log in occasionally and randomly, and check your kids’ messages.
We need to pause here for a second, so I can answer the inevitable concerns about invasion of privacy, trust, and how angry your kids will be if you go snooping around. First, your kids have no right to privacy from you online while they’re living at home. The internet – like all technology – is neither inherently good nor evil. However, you and I both know that the internet is often used for evil, and it’s your job to train and protect your kids from that. One of the easiest and best ways to do that is to check their accounts. Doing this allowed one family I know to discover that their child had a drug problem. Another parent was scanning her child’s messages when she discovered the child and the child’s significant other were planning a rendezvous at the significant other’s house while both of the parents were gone. This mom also discovered the kids’ plans to lie about where they would be during this time. In both of these scenarios, the parents were then able to intervene in a situation they would have otherwise never known about. Good parents carve out places where their kids can have their own space, but the internet isn’t one of those places.
The second and third concerns are easily dealt with. The trick to not breaking your kids’ trust and not making them angry when you log into their accounts is to tell them you’re going to do it well in advance. For clarity, I don’t mean that you tell them right before you check up on them (in which case your tech-savvy kids will simply delete anything they don’t want you to see), I mean that you need to sit them down and tell them that you will be checking up on them. Do this at the same time that you make them give you their username and password. This conversation is much easier for parents whose kids are getting on Facebook for the first time, because they can frame it as a deal: yes, you can have a Facebook account, but only if you give me access. But even if your child has had an account that you’ve not had access to for years, you still need to sit them down and have this discussion. Explain that you do trust them, but that it’s your responsibility as a parent to help them make good decisions and to check up on the decisions they make. You also want to be able to check who their friends are, and you may not have access to their profiles when you’re logged in as yourself. As an adult, you may be able to spot warning signs that your child might miss if their friends are headed for trouble. It is precisely because you love your kids that you need to be able to access their account. Remind them that as long as they have nothing to be ashamed of, they won’t have any need to worry about you occasionally logging in. Make sure you’re conveying that this is something you’re doing for their safety and good, not because you care to know all their secrets. As long as you have this discussion before you ever log in, you will have little fallout in the future. In fact, as long as you don’t find anything you’re concerned about, your kids will never know you actually did log in.
Step 4: Write and post on your kid’s wall. It is amazing to see how much affect this simple little step can be. Just as your presence around your kids and their friends modifies their behavior when they’re together, so too your posting on your kids’ Facebook walls can help modify their online behavior. No one wants to drop the F-bomb on Jimmy’s wall right above where Jimmy’s mom told him how proud she was of how well he played in his basketball game yesterday. And no one is going to make an inappropriate comment on Suzie’s picture after her dad comments on the beautiful, godly young women she’s becoming. Posting regularly on your kids’ Facebook walls will remind them and their friends of your presence, and I think you’ll like the results.
As you start taking these steps, be prepared for some level of resistance. If your kids push back against you having access to their accounts or being their Facebook friend, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing something bad online. It’s natural for them to want more freedom and autonomy – that’s a big part of what adolescence is all about. As a parent you will have to find ways to let them spread their wings over time, but the internet is a place where wise parents keep a close guard.
So how about you? Which of these steps are you already doing? How many of these rules of thumb are new to you? Are there good practices you have put in place that I haven’t thought of? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below, and let’s continue growing together.