How To Help Your Kids Keep Safe On The Internet

A client wrote in with the following question:

My son is 13 and now he wants a Facebook account. I have heard all the horror stories and I am really reluctant to allow it. I know many of his friends are on Facebook and he feels left out. What should I do?

This is a great question. There is so much we need to know. The best place to start is to understand the pros and cons of Facebook and the Internet.

1. The Pros and Cons:

Pros: Facebook like all social networking sites strengthens connections with friends and family. (I just found an old apartment mate from my first year in college on Facebook. I haven’t heard from her in years!)

Kids can keep in touch with friends from camp, and kids that aren’t in their class or school. Facebook can help kids coordinate and collaborate on projects, forgotten homework assignments and impromptu get togethers. Kids can contact their teachers or coaches more easily. This helps them become more responsible and organized about their school work and extracurricular activities.

Cons: Because of Facebook, kids are not getting enough practice talking to their peers face to face. Researchers have found that kids who use social networking sites exclusively may have poorer communications skills and more misunderstandings with friends. This is the real scary part: social networks are often conduits for cyber bullying and are hunting grounds for sexual predators. Experts are also concerned with the rise of obsessive behaviors associated with not only Facebook but with blackberries, iphones, itouchs and plain old cell phones.

If that isn’t enough, teachers and coaches may connect with parents more, moving the responsibility of homework and tests away from kids to their parents.

2. Let’s be friends:

Most experts agree that if your child does have a Facebook account you need to friend them so that you can keep a close eye on their page. You actually need to be their first friend. If you attended any of my parenting classes you will know that I do not advocate being your child’s friend. You need to be the parent, the authority figure and role model in their lives. This is the exception.

My friend’s daughter, Kayla, has a Facebook account. Kayla’s uncle has a job where he has to monitor Facebook constantly. He checks Kayla’s page frequently and scares away the boys that post on her page. Kudos to intrusive, overbearing uncles. Kids become intensely annoyed with nosy parents but tend to be more good natured with the meddling of their extended family.

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