To Friend or Not Friend Your Kid on Facebook?

Almost 50 percent of parents are “friending” their kiddos on Facebook, so says Retrevo.  In my mind, there are only two reasons to “friend” your child on Facebook – to protect or to connect.  I can see doing both with my kids, who are still – thankfully –  too young for Facebook.  

That said, it’s not that simple.   As I was mulling over the pros/cons of social networking, texting and such for my kids, I received a tasteless Facebook post from a 20-something relative.  She chose to air her dirty laundry – calling out people by first, middle and last names on Facebook.  Then, the actual name calling started.  It was ugly, and I would have liked to reach through the Ethernet and thump her on the noggin.  More than anything, I wished that I just hadn’t seen it.

Then, shock turned into concern.  What if everyone in my Facebook network could see this tomfoolery (which they can’t – unless they looked really hard)?  It was at that moment, when I was concerned with my own virtual identity that I began to form an overall Internet strategy for my kids, which focuses on safety, independence and social grace.  While I want to keep “tabs” on my kids and protect them, I don’t think it would be wise to befriend them until I can truly be a friend who doesn’t judge every post, misspelled word or photo to my own standards.   Nor, do I want to give up my own online independence. 

The trick, then, is how to protect and help them develop an honorable online identity when they are tweens/teens if I’m not reading their every post.  I think it starts with transparency and trust.  Their character will define their virtual identities, providing the same moral compass for right and wrong online as it does in the real world.

This is the same world where the sun shines everyday – casting a perfect warmth of 74 degrees – and eating chocolate cake doesn’t make you fat.  Right!  In the real world, good kids make wrong choices – some of which are irreversible.  It can be pretty scary for a mother.   Now that kid #1 navigates the Internet with ease, we’ll start with the basics – talking with him about how to become a more critical consumer/reader as well as developing online street smarts.  That’s just the beginning.  

Back to the monitoring part.  Clearly, there needs to be some transparency – meaning we can check-in (not obsessively stalk) our kids’ online activity. This brings me to the best reason for connecting (although, not on Facebook) with my children online – to teach them good and safe online behaviors.   For me, cell phones, texting and social media seemingly go hand-in-hand.  And, for most of the kids in our neighborhood, the cell phone arrives about 6th grade or at 12 YO (aka middle school).

That means, I have approximately 2 years and 348 days to get my online/social media/texting/cell phone rules in place.  In the meantime, I’m comfortable operating in the 7-10 YO age group where filtering programs and child-safe search engines are seemingly the first and easiest answer.  But, I know it’s just the beginning, as each year brings new and more sophisticated challenges, opportunities and risks. 

Thankfully, there are some great go-to resources for parents.  GetNetWise breaks down online safety by age groups, providing tips and technology for parents.  Connect Safely – Smart Socializing Starts Here is an invaluable parenting resource on everything from “sexting” to “bully proofing yourself on Facebook.”  Both sites reinforced what I already knew – talking/listening is truly the only way to protect and connect with my kids about everything important to them (and me). 

Now that I’ve crafted a strategy for cultivating my children’s online identities, I’m off to develop guidelines for driving and dating … which they won’t need until they are 30!

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