Facebook, to be honest, is something I ruefully enjoy. In fact, about a year or two ago, I cancelled Facebook and only came back after several months when I felt it was “safe.” Clustering just my friends and family together, it eventually amassed to a few hundred people that, even though I knew them, they didn’t really know me. Frustrating as it was, I eventually whittled away at 300+ people to just a little over 60. Sure, the numbers grow little by little, but the numbers are kept down to family, close friends, and people I write with.
That’s me, though; I’m an adult (that could be up for debate, really) and I can decide who I add, what kind of content I look at, and just where it is being shared throughout Facebook, and, well, the Internet. As an adult, I’m responsible for what I upload to Facebook, be it status messages, pictures of my goofy face, or even when I share other people’s goofy faces. That’s all on me, you know?
About 11 years ago, I created a smaller version of myself. One could consider it cloning except she came out far superior and vastly more intelligent and I dub her my “Monkey.” With big, heavenly brown eyes, an infectious laugh, and a thirst for all things dealing with technology, my Monkey seemed to be quick to want her own Facebook. You can imagine my surprise when I realized this, but then took a look around at everyone she knows and how each and every single one of them have a Facebook account.
I remember that it was a Tuesday.
The conversation leading up to it was one of mild irritation — and mostly on my part — as she perched at the kitchen table and glanced over my open laptop, idly scrolling about the bits of nonsense.
“Can I have one?” she asked, never lifting her eyes from the pictures I had posted of her that my privacy settings had kept mostly everyone away from.
And this is when I had to decide just how closely I could monitor my child’s experience without taking away the enjoyment she sought in it. Sure, she’s 11 and really, what does an 11-year-old need with Facebook, but it was all quite innocent. Her church group has an open Facebook presence, as does her family who shares quotes, pictures, cute stories, and everything — there for all to see. I had to ask myself if I thought my child was responsible enough to handle an open forum like that and just how comfortable I was that my child’s face would be on the Internet at all.
Then, well, I looked at my own Facebook page and realized I had been exploiting her cute little Monkeyface all over my private space. So why shouldn’t she get to, as well?
Upon setting up the account, we went over some rules and regulations to having a Facebook account and just what safeguards would be in place for her and, recently, I found the notes I jotted down for both of us when we were discussing it; I thought I would share them.
Rules for Monkey and Her Facebook Account
- All settings will be private. This means that only friends and family members will be able to view her profile. (A parent can set these features up for their child to assure that they can’t accidentally go in and undo the deeds.) This is to safeguard others from looking her name up on the Internet and trying to add her, based on the information given, and exposed.
- Absolutely no personal information shall ever be shared in a status update. This means phone numbers, addresses, or even private, personal experiences that others might not understand and take out of context. Sure, it was hard to use the potty one time, but I doubt everyone on her Friends list needs to be aware of it or how we fixed it, right? We also don’t need a bunch of her school chums giving us a call on the old telephone to check in on that potty situation, right? Exactly.
- Friend requests will always be OKed by an adult — preferably a parent and/or grandparent. We know who is best for her to be speaking with and if it’s someone who she doesn’t know and neither do I, chances are that they have no business on her Facebook.
- No spamming! This rule was added after the horrific “CatSpam 2011” incident, where we have had to make certain issues very clear. When she posts something to her status update — it goes out to everyone’s news feed. Posting repeatedly will spam updates on top of other people and it gets rather frustrating. So, when she sees a cute kitty website and wants to show them off to the world, she should refrain, choose one or two, and only post those.
- Apps and games will be approved, as well! Sometimes, games and applications on Facebook aren’t meant for children or even younger viewers at all, so it’s up to the parent to safeguard her from those things. Games in which the player documents someone’s suicide drop off of a tower or where she takes pictures of her face and makes it look dead? Not really the most appropriate for a child. She must talk to her parent before a new app or game is to be utilized. She should remember the spam rule, however, and choose requests carefully.
- Pictures must be approved before uploading. She’s a kid and, as such, she’s not really aware of the world around her and what might be considered inappropriate to some folks. While she might think nobody will think twice about her in her pajamas on Facebook, some people might think it “scandalous.” She must always run pictures by her parent!
- Language, little one! Just because she may see other people posting language that isn’t intended for her doesn’t mean that she has the right due to the open world of the Internet. She is to be held to the same guidelines, language-wise, as she would be in front of her grandparents. She must keep this in mind.
Facebook is a great place for children to keep up with their family, their sports teams, church groups, and so on, but it’s just like most activities and it’s best done when very, very highly supervised. As it stands, my child has an adult check on her Facebook page nearly nightly and, if it’s not me, it’s her grandmother (Nonnie represent!) and I think that helps keep an eye out for anything Monkey might not see.
As an adult who was brought up in the age of the Internet, I know that I never wanted to be kept away from something that was growing so massively important, but I needed to be educated about it. If your children are of the age that they want to take part in the same social media circus that they see you’re a part of, let them know the boundaries and the reasons they may or may not want to, as well. Educate them on the boundaries that are put up to keep them safe, but never keep them away just because; that’s a one-way-ticket to rebellion that will have you finding an uneducated little monster with a secret Facebook page filled with curse words and scary pictures. After all, that might be what they think Facebook is for, you know?
What it all comes down to is this: I had to take the strong and attentive parenting style that I hold in my everyday life and apply it to the Internet, as well.
Do you let your children use Facebook? What boundaries do you have set up and if you haven’t allowed your children to use it, what age do you think you might? What about other social media sites like Twitter, Reddit, etc.?