A very oft asked question at every talk I give is “Should I befriend my tween or teen on Facebook?” I understand the predicament of parents, having two netizens at home myself. There is always a quandary; how will the child construe it? Will he accept the friend request or will he rebel at this ‘intrusion’ into his privacy? Will a request be the harbinger of a series of parent-child spates?
I have a very simple approach to this. If the child is below 13, then I would no way permit him to sign up on Facebook by falsifying age. I am against being a party to deliberate fact falsification. Moreover, the social media is definitely not a safe place for a child to explore alone.
For a teen, I would suggest you prepare him a bit. Like talk about the need for joining this site; what he plans to do there; whether he would be willing to share any problems he faces with his siblings or parents? Also take the help of recent news to point out the dangers present on any networking site and ask how he will handle them. Once he signs up, request him to befriend you, with a promise that you would not embarrass him online. Teens are very sensitive about these things. If he resists, explain that sometimes an adult eye sees things more clearly and long ahead than a child’s eye. Say you would be like a security patrol that quietly roams the street, without invading anyone’s privacy, to ensure everyone is safe and no untoward element is lurking about.
I will give you some good reasons why a parent should befriend the child on Facebook. The findings of the McAfee India survey titled, “Tweens and Technology Report 2013” highlights that Indian kids are going online from an early age, in large numbers and for longer hours. And most of them are on Facebook!
Check this out:
- 53% of online tweens are online daily between 1-3 hours!! Well, I’d like to be where my kids are, for sure
- 70% kids stating that they have signed up on FB. That makes it a happy hunting ground for cyber crooks like Spammers and paedophiles, does it not? Monitoring needed here!
- 88% of FB users share photos of themselves while 73% share photos of family & friends. Somebody, preferably the parent, needs to monitor this initially and point out which pics should not be shared and why and why it is not right to tag people without permission
- 41% of the tweens surveyed share information about themselves over FB. You and I know how dangerous this can be, exposing the child to kidnappers and child stalkers. The kids are gullible and easily influenced. It’s better if you periodically monitor the child’s page to ensure that the child was not being coerced to share private information. See what happened to this girl when she invited her friends for a party on Facebook
- 36% of online tweens have spoken to a stranger online. Well, I’d suggest you keep close tabs on friend list and install McAfee Total or McAfee LiveSafe to monitor chats
- 12 year olds are more likely to have seen nasty comments online than 8 year olds (33% vs. 16%). You can actually use the child’s Facebook wall to teach him about bullying and its negative consequences. Also, you can discuss responses to Cyberbullying, if your child ever faces any. In case you find your child to be aggressive online, you can again take preventive measures. But for this, you have to be friends with the child on Facebook
- 89% of the parents are friends with their child on Facebook, so why shouldn’t you be?
One very important lesson that you must give your child when he decides to sign up on Facebook is that he must be very, very particular about who he becomes friends with and what he will be sharing with them. Set strict rules about not befriending strangers, even if it happens to be the brother of a friend’s friend that he had met at some function. Give him the McAfee mantra—STOP, THINK, CONNECT.
Do remember, however, that it would be in your interest to maintain an invisible profile on your child’s wall. Do not comment on any picture or post. Share your feelings with your child personally. Never try to penalize your child by rebuking him on his page. It’s one of the worst things you could do to your child.
Relationships thrive on trust and respect and it has to work both ways. Also, little things like security software on all internet-enabled devices go a long way to ensure your equanimity and your child’s protection. 🙂