Social Media Full Disclosure – Be “Friends” with your Kids!

My FaceBook Friends

Image by Josh Russell via Flickr

Today, I will cover our third rule for working with your kids to protect and monitor them online, without them feeling like you’re watching over their shoulder all the time.  The rule we will cover today is:

You will accept all “friend” or “follow” requests from us on your social media accounts.

I know what you are thinking…. you’re supposed to be a guiding element and an influence in your kids’ lives, not a friend!  You are there to set boundaries and rules, enforce discipline, teach your children the difference between right and wrong, and so on.  This very important rule actually allows you to do all of these things.

What Does Being Friends Mean?

For those that are relatively unfamiliar with social media outlets such as Facebook or Twitter, the concept of being “friends” with your kids might not be familiar.  Simply put, when you “friend” your children on one of these systems, it allows you to see content and conversations that they are posting on that site.

For example, if you are friends with your kids on Facebook, all you have to do is log in to your Facebook account and view your news feed.  You will then be able to see all of the updates, pictures, and comments they’re making and sharing with other accounts they have “friended.”

Almost all social media sites have this feature.  Some sites call it a “follow” or “watch” function, but they all do basically the same thing.  Updates and content posted by the people you are following are available for you to view and consume.

Of course, this means you’ll need an account on every social media site your kids use.  This is actually a good thing; being familiar with the sites your children use (including possible security and privacy issues) is a great line of defense in helping to protect them!

Should I Chatter with my Kids on Facebook Now That We’re Friends?

This is a loaded question.  The short answer is: “It depends.”

Some kids will prefer that you do not comment on their posts or status updates, while other kids may not care one way or the other.  For instance, older teens may prefer more separation between their home lives and their other, public relationships.

NO kids want you posting stuff that might embarrass them.  Keep in mind that any of the following things might be things they are not sharing with their friends:

  1. Activities they’re involved in outside of school.
  2. Pet names you call your children (for instance, my wife calls our 17yo daughter “Bunny”… she is NOT supposed to post that!)
  3. Adorable pictures of your 2 year-old in the bathtub, your 8 year-old in pajamas, or their “chubby” phase at any age!  Yes, I know you love those photos.  They’re also likely to embarrass the heck out of your kids when everyone sees them.
  4. Affectionate language from you directed at your kids.  Some may not mind this, but others will be embarrassed by displays of affection online.  A good rule of thumb for this one is:  If they are easily embarrassed by hugs and kisses from you in front of their friends in person, they’re likely to react the same way to similar displays online.

I should state here that open communication is key.  While you are setting up ground rules for how your children will behave online, let them help set up the ground rules for how you will engage with them online.  Ask them to discuss their preferences, compromise where possible, and then respect those boundaries.  This gives them some control over the situation, without risking their safety.  Hopefully, this mutually respectful attitude makes them less likely to break your agreement and decreases the chance that your kids will try to hide online activity from you.

What if I Don’t Know What Social Media Sites my Kids are Using?

This is a common follow-up question.  If you are concerned that your children have started online accounts that you don’t know about, an audit of their online footprint is in order.  I have covered this in a previous blog post about the first rule of social media full disclosure.  Read through it and send us an email if you have any questions!

I’m Following my Kids, but I Can’t See Their Updates.  What’s Wrong?

In some cases, your kids might know enough about the advanced privacy features to be able to hide their updates from you.  For example, Facebook allows a user to put your friends into “groups” and you can set specific security for those groups.  So, in this case, it’s possible your kids did the following:

  1. After they accepted your friend request, they put you into the “Parents” group in their profile.
  2. They then changed their privacy settings so that the “Parents” group cannot see any updates, pictures, or comments.

If you know your children are active on Facebook or other social media sites, and you don’t see their updates, there is a good chance they’ve blocked you.   There is a logical order of operations to handle this:

  1. Log-in to their account yourself to see all of their updates.  You should have their log-in information if you followed the advice in my post about managing your child’s online accounts.
  2. Check if they have assigned your account to any limited access groups in their privacy settings.  You can find a great help page about Facebook Friend Lists on Facebook’s help site.  There is also a great Privacy Help Page as well, if you are generally unfamiliar with Facebook privacy.
  3. If your children have blocked you in any way, be prepared to have a conversation with them about your role in protecting them online.
  4. Almost all social media sites have some sort of privacy settings that users can leverage to hide (or reveal) information to specific people.  It might be a good time to make sure you understand those privacy settings in detail, for every social media site your kids visit!
  5. There are parental control tools that monitor online activities, including reporting on new friends that your kids collect on Facebook and other social media sites.  Check out our resources page for a Round Up of Parental Control Tools!

In my next “social media full disclosure” post, I will talk about how to help your children set up their privacy settings on several popular social media sites, and how to deal with online “stranger danger.”

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This entry was posted in About Facebook, Internet Safety, Tools and Techniques by Daryll Swager. Bookmark the permalink.
Daryll Swager

About Daryll Swager

Daryll Swager has been in the world of online communities and social media since 1997. He currently holds a position as a manager of the communities and social media team at Quest software. In recent years, Daryll has founded the VMware User Community, the Terremark vCloud Express community, the Vizioncore vCommunity, and the new Quest Sofware user community. In his spare time, Daryll enjoys fishing, playing computer games, and hanging out with his wife.

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