Facebook, You and Kids


The new year is here, we're getting kids back to school, and it feels like time to get the house cleaned out, calendars organized and all the other stuff that goes along with a fresh start. Here's a new one to add to your new-year to-do list -- clean up your social media profile. It's something they were talking about on the news last night, and it actually makes sense. In fact, it might be something you and your kids should do together.

Pew research found in 2010 that almost 75% of teens used social networking. I'm sure that's even higher now! And even though you are supposed to be 13 to be on Facebook, research has found that 7.5 million kids ages 8 to 12 are on Facebook. A very good article in the recent Redbook takes an in-depth look at Facebook use among teens, and shows how it poses a very interesting dilemma for parents. Say yes to Facebook, and all of a sudden you're opening your child up to a whole new realm of peer pressure and potential bullying. Say no, and your child will become a social pariah.

While there are definitely many things to be aware of if your child is on Facebook, it's just one more thing to add to that list of rites of passage that pre-teens and teens have been going through for years. Adolescence is a time full of dangerous minefields, as kids learn to think for themselves and find their place in the world. The place of parents is to be here to help them maneuver through it.

So if your kids are on Facebook and you're not, get on. Forget all the stigma associated with it and quit trying to act like you're above it. It's one of the best ways to connect with your teen and learn more about their social lives. If your child is under 13, you should definitely be monitoring the entire process very carefully.

And believe me, I know from experience that a teen being on Facebook can bring up some great conversations between you and your child. Does your kid have 600 friends online? Maybe you should talk about friendship and what it means, as well as how a "friend" on Facebook is different than a true friend.

Does your teen get excited when a lot of people "like" a status update, but mope around when he posts an update and gets no reaction? Use that opportunity to talk about the ins and outs of social media and the difference between that and conversations in person or over the phone.

You can also talk about how what you say or post in pictures represents you to other people, encourage kids to think about how what they're posting may be received by their Facebook friends (which probably include everyone from their best friend at school to their Sunday School teacher) and even how to stay safe and secure from online bullying and cyber-predators.

It's a complicated world we live in. But while you're taking off some of those pictures of you from 2009 where you were still trying to lose the baby weight, encourage your kids to think about how the picture of them hanging out with their girlfriend at the latest frat party will look this spring when they start looking for a job. It's all a matter of perspective!

-- Karen Alley, Web Editor.


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