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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Should Your Child Have a Facebook Account?

I've heard arguments on both sides of this issue. One side says absolutely not. The other says go for it as long as parents have access to what is being written.

Because communication is highly valued and the most important component in raising children (besides love), the best relationships are those where children share everything with their parents without fear of retribution.

For a variety of reasons, sometimes because parents work out of the home for as many as ten hours per day, many children don't have the kind of relationship with their parents that allow them to "tell all" comfortably. Most of their day is spent with peers and siblings.

For those reasons and for those parents who are absent most of every day, I tend to go with the second argument for the following reasons:

You'll find out what is going on in your child's life. Even if you don't understand the lingo, you'll know what is going on day to day. Most of the time you'll see entries such as "bored," or "what u doin?" But other times, you'll see cries for help, "Y is life so cruel".

A Facebook account will give you access to your child's emotional state of being.

You'll also be aware of why your child's attitude and behavior changes. If your daughter's (or son's) behavior starts to change, because she falls in love with a Facebook "friend," you'll know. Whereas before she had a Facebook account, you would have had no way of knowing what was happening in her life, especially if she decided to keep her relationship secret, you now have access to her innermost thoughts. You can also keep track of your child's mood. What she might not say to you, she will probably say to her friends or post on Facebook.

Facebook, for a child, is a safe place to vent feelings. Paying attention to your child's moods will prepare you for any discussions you might want to have.

You can easily access your child's account, because you sat with her when she set it up. If you don't allow your child to have her own account, she may sneak an account at a friend's house using a fake name. She can disguise herself so well you would never know she had an account.

You can prepare your child for what to expect from others. Because children tend to believe everything they read, they will fall for compliments they receive and they can easily fall in love with the first person who shows them affection – yes, you can find affection online.

Facebook gives you, as the parent, an opportunity to discuss the way pedophiles contact children. That 15 year old boy who has captured your daughter's or son's attention might actually be a 40 year old man who has been convicted of rape.

Never, under any circumstances, should s/he give out her/his phone number to anybody without your permission.

You can control how your child is perceived. While nothing is really safe anymore, you can control some of the information you put on your child's profile. Tell him he is allowed to approve only those friends who are actually friends. Make his profile private so that only he and his friends can view it. Let him know that you will have to approve his friends.

Photos you post should not depict anything that would give any indication of where your child attends school and you should instruct your child not to give out any information to anybody that could let pedophiles know where he goes to school or where he spends his time.

You will need to monitor your child's Facebook account to make sure he hasn't accepted somebody you haven't approved, because even something as simple as saying I'm going to Lincoln Park Mall will give the pedophile valuable information.

If you upload a photo (better to use an icon or a graphic representation of your child rather than an actual photograph of your child), don't show the child's features clearly. Show him walking away from the camera or blur his features enough so that he would be unrecognizable if seen in person.

You will have access to your child's personal profile. You'll be alerted through email about any changes made to your child's profile. You'll also know your child's password. Remember it. You don't want to lose it.

To keep in touch with what is going on in your child's life, especially when you are away from home, visit your child's page frequently. Get to know his or her friends. Pay close attention to where s/he posts his/her comments. Engage your children in conversations about their friends.

If they spend too much time at the computer or if they cover the screen when you walk by, something requires your attention. Privacy is one thing. Secrets are another. Laptops should be used in rooms with easy access to parents, and they should never be used behind locked doors. If your child wants privacy, provide a diary.

Remember, if you forbid your child, especially when he is a teenager, to open a Facebook account, he may seek out friends who will open one for him.

Keep the lines of communication open. Get yourself a Facebook account too, so you can leave messages for your child. "Friend" his friends.

Facebook has given this grandma a gateway into the lives of her children and grandchildren. I'm grateful for the opportunity to get to know them in ways I might never have known about them in any other way. As their grandma, I also let them know when I'm not happy about their word choices, especially when it comes to swearing ;)

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