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Just the other day, I told my 14-year-old son that I was working on a blog post about Facebook. When I asked him why he hadn’t signed up on Facebook yet so I could interview him, he just rolled his eyes and said, “I don’t know. It’s stupid. Get your own teenager for your post.”
Truth be told, I’m greatly pleased that my son hasn’t taken to Facebook yet. But most tweens and teens don’t consider the social network “stupid.” On the contrary, they are spending massive amounts of time on it -- one study claimed 75 percent of them use Facebook.
So I’ve thought plenty about what I would do the day my own son decides to cross over to the social media side. Here’s my advice to you on how to deal with your kids using Facebook:
1. Monitor their Facebook usage.
Your tweens’ laptops or cell phones should not always be in their rooms. In fact, it’s best if you ask them to keep Web devices where you can “see” them, like on the kitchen counter or dining room table. I strongly suggest keeping laptops and smartphones out of their rooms at night too, because tweens have been known to sacrifice sleep for these devices in the wee hours.
2. Understand cyberbullying.
The Internet has always been full of judgmental people, and Facebook is no different. It’s common among teens to post snotty or rude messages on the Facebook “walls” of people they don’t like, for example. And in some cases, this is cyberbullying.
Researchers agree. Facebook has some unique aspects that make it an especially rugged social landscape for teens to navigate, according to Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a pediatrician and lead author of American Academy of Pediatrics’ social media guidelines. (Check out the group’s report, The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families .)
“For some teens and tweens, social media is the primary way they interact socially, rather than at the mall or a friend’s house,” says O’Keeffe. “A large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones. Parents need to understand these technologies so they can relate to their children’s online world -- and comfortably parent in that world.”
I have no doubt that Facebook can make many teens feel worse than they normally would anyway. It’s just another popularity contest at a time when many teens are feeling more pressure from peers and the “me-first” culture.
3. Know who they are friending.
To ensure your kids’ safety, you’ll have to make a Facebook profile too. Tell your kids you’d like to friend them and come up with an agreement about how it will work -- for example, maybe you don’t post comments on their wall (which could embarrass them). Also explain to them why it’s important to keep your Facebook friend list to a reasonable level. Friending hundreds of people just increases the chances that one of them will be a creep, a stalker … or worse.
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