Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Facebook For Parents

By: Maureen Birdsall

Attending school functions & sporting events, I often engage with other parents. There is always the chatter of what you do, etc. When I say I create web sites, and work with Social Media, I hear this a lot (at least once a week):

“I don’t get this whole Facebook thing, and what it means and what it does. I don’t want my kid entering into this weird internet site and talking to strangers. I can barely check my email, and I have no idea what they’ll be doing on there. I put my foot down and said no.” Usually there is a mortified, eye rolling 8th grader sitting beside them.

My response is: “Do you have 30 minutes one afternoon? I’ll get you ramped up on Facebook, give you a quick tour and show you what it is.” I’ve had no less than 10 parents take me up on this. Every single one of them eventually gave a thumbs up to their child, and are using Facebook as another way to monitor & keep in the loop on what their kids are up to. They also enjoy it for themselves, keeping in touch with old school pals & sharing photos.

I think MySpace gave Facebook a bad rap. Every parent watched in horror as they read about teenage suicides over MySpace posts, nude photos, and basically teens exploiting themselves and their friends with bad behavior.

Facebook is different from MySpace. The premise is the same, but there are some key differentiators.

1.) You need to use your real name and email address. Yes, there are ways around this, but kids want to find each other and connect. It’s in their best interest to use their real names.

2.) Facebook uses the “friends” premise. If you’re not my friend, then you aren’t in my loop of people that can view what I’m doing. So as long as kids are only approving and accepting friendships from people they know – it’s all good.

This does not however stop kids from being completely cruel to each other. There are many dramas that play out for a high-schooler on Facebook. A relationship change is as devastating as a public break-up, an unappealing photo can be tagged and circulated and there are plenty of creative ways to lash out in a fallen friendship. But the same is true with text messaging, or hanging out down-town.

My advice to nervous parents is this. Open yourself a Facebook page. Even if you’re computer illiterate, it’s a simple process that will take you only 15 minutes. Find a few close pals that are already there you can be “Friends” with, and try it out. The more information you put in during the registration process, the more suggestions Facebook will make for you (people that are already there from your high-school & work). Share some photos, accept Mob War invitations, and get SuperPoked. You’ll be hooked in no time, sharing photos and updating your status.

If you’re having fun, and feeling comfortable – ask yourself if your child is mature enough for this? Are they responsible with email and their cell phone? Are they comfortable with interacting with their friends this way? If your answer is yes, then walk your child through the process.

My best advice is that you make it unconditional that they are your “friend”, and remain that way. I am the token friend of about 20 neighborhood kids & family kids. I don’t interact with them, I don’t tag them, and I don’t Superpoke them. I do however watch their status, browse what they post, see which groups they are fans of and make sure that they are well watched over. It’s entertaining to see what’s going on in their lives, and I learn as much about their thoughts & feelings as I do driving carpool (which is a lot). For me Facebook is like having magic access to those secret text messages I wish I could see.