A friend asked me a couple of weeks ago whether he should allow his 11-year-old daughter to start using Facebook. Hmmm … now that’s a tough one. If you have children, you understand why. On one hand, it’s getting harder and harder to shelter, or maybe I should say “shield,” your children from anything. The viral nature of social media is mind-boggling, faster-than-light, it seems.
Too, most of this girl’s friends already have Facebook pages. There’s the eternal, “But so-and-so’s mom lets HER do it!” argument. As a mom, I always hated that one, because I always answered it just like my mother did. “I don’t care what so-and-so’s mom lets her do. You’re my child, and these are my rules!” That answer, by the way, goes over every bit as well now as it did 40 years ago.
What I told my friend by way of advice went something like this: “If she has access to a computer or a cell phone, she is likely already on Facebook. Rather than fight that or forbid it, thereby making its appeal even greater, go ahead and lay some ground rules now. Her computer should be in an area of the home that’s central and available to you and Mom. Let her know that you have the right (and will exercise it) to jump in and look around her ‘page’ anytime you choose. And if it at any time it looks like she isn’t exercising good sense, she loses the privilege.” That’s really all you can do aside from never granting your child access to a computer or phone, and how practical is that?
What I should have also told him, and I intend to next time I see him, is to never, EVER, try to outsmart your kid when it comes to these social media sites. I speak from experience. You see, I am of that very last generation of people who went right through high school, college and graduate school without ever touching a computer. Don’t bother doing the math. It was a very long time ago.
When our youngest daughter was in middle school, that’s when the My Space craze was taking off. I was amazed at how much time kids spent on there, and I had already heard that everything from bullying to sharing inappropriate photos to predatory stalking had made their way to that new arena. I made the mistake of bypassing the above conversation about ground rules and mutual trust with my daughter. Instead, I put on my spy hat, and the end result was both frustrating and humiliating.
I created a fictitious identity for myself and set up a My Space page (or whatever you call it). I didn’t do anything weird; I just didn’t want to look like a mom out there checking up on her daughter. The problem was, I promptly forgot my username and password, so in essence I had locked myself out of My Space. When I called a friend of mine to help me figure out the mess, it took us another two hours before I was completely locked out of my own computer. Not only could I not oversee my daughter’s activities on My Space, I couldn’t check my own e-mail or use the Internet at all.
Whom did I have to finally break down and ask to unravel the whole mess? My daughter, of course. Not only did she learn of my lame cloak-and-dagger attempt to monitor her activity, she has never let me forget it. It was only then that I took the time to sit down with her, explain my concerns and ask her to humor me with respect to using My Space and eventually, Facebook. She knew that I could get in there and look around at random (because she set it up), and I think just having that knowledge and knowing that it mattered kept her mindful of her choices. Eventually, as she got older and more mature, I didn’t feel the need to (lurk? creep? Whatever this week’s term for “spy” might be).
To my advice-seeking friend, if you happen to read this before we see each other again, just be honest with your daughter and lay all the cards on the table. Be honest, and be firm. Our kids have such sophisticated tools at their disposal, but they’re still kids. It’s nearly impossible for them to foresee the likely conclusions to most of their actions and choices, so they need us to help guide them. They need us to step in if a situation gets out of hand. They’ll never admit that, of course, but it’s our job as parents to know it, nonetheless.
And whatever you do, don’t create a fictitious identity and try to get your child to “like” you on Facebook so you can follow her activity. It’s too complicated, it’s just one more password to remember, and it’s really embarrassing when you have to own up to it.
Do you let your children use Facebook or other social media sites? Do you have any rules or tips to share with other parents?