Leading With Change + Innovation

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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

Facebook and Social Networks: A Guide for Parents

Take it from a social media speaker – this may be obvious to some, but a surprise to others: Adults and kids use Facebook very differently.  While adults are very tuned into accepting friend requests from only those that truly are their friends, kids are far more likely to use the social network to connect to other kids they barely know. Either way, it’s important that parents know about kids and social networks, and how to ensure that proper rules of Internet and online safety are observed.

Important to consider: For many parents and adults, the appeal to a service like Facebook is the number of connections they have. For kids, that’s sometimes a big turn off. As a social media speaker, I’ve talked to several tweens and teens who are on Facebook because all their friends are, but that tell us they don’t like to update or “use” the social network for the exact same reason – because all their friends are on it. Therefore they’re constantly searching for other services which allow them to connect to the friends they want to in other ways.

So find out which services your kids and students and are using, and if you’re not already using them, you need to start, or at the very least have a firm understanding of how these social media platforms work and how kids can use them. As a benefit, this also may provide some common ground for discussions with your teens at a time when having conversations that involve more than grunts or talking about how they’re hungry can be a rare and precious occasion. But at the same time, you also need to know your boundaries when it comes to following your kids online. So refrain from posting publicly to their Timeline on Facebook, and don’t follow their friends on social networks to save everyone from mistrust and embarrassment. One good idea is to use social networks to connect to your kids’ friends’ parents. It’s another great way to foster community connections and create a sense of safety around kids’ activity.

Oftentimes kids’ unspoken rules involve how to use Facebook how they want to DESPITE the fact they’re connected to you. There are detailed instructions easily accessible via Google offering kids tips on “how to friend your parents without sacrificing your privacy,” which essentially comprise a step-by-step guide for kids on how to setup their privacy controls before accepting your friend request so they can continue to post information without you seeing it, even if you’re friends. According to one recent survey, 80 percent of teens have admitted to posting content to Facebook that they’ve hidden from certain friends and/or parents by using privacy settings. So be aware that just because you’re connected doesn’t mean you’ll see anything. In fact, posts being hidden from parents is what led to this incident in which a Texas dad shot his daughter’s laptop on a YouTube video in order to teach her a lesson. Although you may not agree with his tactic, the incident provides a great conversation point for you and your teens that can lead into discussions about appropriate behavior.

Monitoring your teens’ Facebook accounts is only part of the choice as well: You must also figure out how often you’ll be checking in. In the October 2010 TRUSTe survey, 72 percent of parents surveyed said they monitor their teens’ accounts, with 50 percent of these parents monitoring weekly, 35 percent daily and 10 percent monthly. Figure out what’s right for your family, and have an open and honest dialogue with your teens about how you’ll be checking in.

A few other tips to remember that I’ve picked up as a social media speaker along the way, and that kids and parents would do well to note:

  • It’s not nice to talk about people behind their back, and many families also operate by the old saying “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So make sure your kids and students understand not to engage in negative banter about others and not to post pictures that they wouldn’t wanted posted themselves.
  • As we’ve stated with regard to other devices and services, don’t assume that everything is automatically set just how you want it in terms of privacy settings on social networks. Go in and make sure all your kids’ updates, photos and more are visible to their friends only on Facebook or other social media services such as Google+. Consider setting up a family group to allow only immediate members of your clan to share information among each other without broadcasting it to the general public.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, use the Help section. Many social networks have extensive, easy-to-understand and searchable help sections, too, so if you don’t know how to do anything, you can look it up pretty easily on-demand.
  • Bring the dialogue into real-life. Talk to your teens about social networks. Whether discussing a funny status update or article you saw or general feelings about the service and current events, using the social network as a starting point for discussion can lead to great conversations with your kids.
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