This is the second in a three-part series on parents, teens, and Facebook.
By Toni Birdsong
This week we’re going to dive deeper into some savvy ways you as a parent can stay ahead of the cyber curve and help your teens enjoy the upsides of Facebook and avoid (or manage) the downsides.
The goal of this series isn’t to teach you how to spy on your teen or question every move he or she makes. The goal is to encourage you as a parent to simply get involved and equip your teen to live a godly, honorable and safe life online. Once you have a sound foundation of teaching with your teen—some of these suggestions may not apply. Every family and every circumstance will differ.
12 Facebook Tips for Christian Parents
1. Communication is key. Talk openly and often about the privilege and responsibility that comes with using Facebook (and being online) and the consequences of breaking the rules. Remember, Rules without Relationship = Rebellion. The Facebook conversation is an ongoing one—not a one-time thing, which makes Facebook an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with your teen so go for it!
2. Model priorities—log off! If you want your teen to put God and family first and have an awareness of the amount of time they spend online then you must be the model for that. Set limits on your own social networking/work/surfing time. Don’t live online. Show them what it looks like to put God and family first. If you mess up in that equation from time to time, confess it to both God and your teen. Then correct it. (In our house, I personally try to log off from 5 pm to 10 pm when my kids are home and need me. I also make every attempt to “go dark” on the weekends, which means no computer time at all).
3. Keep computers in an open area—not a teen’s bedroom. It’s important to set Family Groundrules on computer use. Teens—regardless of maturity—are all vulnerable to technology addiction, bullies, inappropriate content, pornography, and sexual predators. It’s up to parents—not teens—to set and enforce the rules for computer use. Don’t let computer use become a “secret” or “personal” thing. Keep digital activities in the open and in the light.
4. Invest in filtering software. Filtering software such as SafeEyes allows you to control the content coming into your home—even on social networks. Filtering software helps you set time limits, block offensive websites and emails and it tracks usage. A quick, free resource to monitor your teen’s Facebook activity is Minor Monitor. Its interface is great and it breaks up information into alerts/actions so you don’t have to scroll through all your teen’s content. Minor Monitor only monitors Facebook so you still need a more comprehensive filter to guard what’s coming into the home across the net.
5. Check private/secret groups. Go beyond your teens Facebook basic “wall.” We talked about requiring your teen’s password in last week’s post. This will allow you to access their page and see any private groups they may have joined. Groups will be on the far left of the Home page view, beneath the profile picture. Click on a group and check up on the “tone” of the conversations off the public wall.
6. Download archived content. Feel like you are behind on monitoring? You can download a history of your teen’s posts and sit down together to discuss the pros and cons of what they—or their friends—have posted. Often teens seriously don’t realize that what they are talking about can be easily misconstrued, come back to haunt them, compromise their safety, or confuse people about their faith and values.
7. Check privacy on apps and games. Make sure that Privacy Settings don’t allow Apps and Games your teen signs up for to harvest personal information and photos from their page.
8. Monitor flirting. The rapid spread of “sexting,” which is sending sexual texts and photos via text, can begin with seemingly harmless flirtatious posts/private messages on Facebook. Sit down with your teen. Talk candidly about the tone, intention, and innuendo of his or her comments—and the comments of “friends.” Make sure your definitions of “harmless” align. You can also get your teens’ status updates sent to your phone. This might be overkill for some parents but for kids who show signs of having boundary issues, it could prove valuable.
9. Explain the concept of narcissism. Facebook is a breeding ground for self-absorption by virtue of it’s very name. But remember, your teen—who has grown up in the Facebook era—likely has no idea that posting 100 photos a week isn’t a great reflection of modesty. Limit the number of “self” photos your teen can post and explain the spiritual and social snares of indulging in the practice of “steaming me.” The excuse that “everyone is doing it,” hopefully holds zero clout in the Christian household.
10. Prepare your teen to handle conflict. Cyber bullying and digital drama happens every minute online and can devastate a teen. Your teen might be a victim or even be the one speaking abusively to another person online. It’s important to talk to your teen about leading online and ways to turn around a negative conversation. Warn them about haters, trolls, strangers, and stalkers, and people who create fake profiles. Go over with them how to block people, and what to do if they are being bullied or get hacked.This is information your kids shouldn’t have to “pick up as they go”—be proactive! Teach your kids not to respond to bullies with hateful comments. Rather, print off thecomments—or take a screen shot—before deleting them. Report them to Facebook and to their Internet Service Provider.Teach your teen to immediately show the conversation to a parent, a teacher or a youth pastor who can help them determine how to handle it. After they’ve made copies of the comments, have them block the bully from accessing their profile.
11. Make time. Get intentional. Take the time to sit down and watch the movie Cyberbully (Netflix, Redbox) with your teen—make sure topause and discuss after key scenes. Cyberbully is definitely a well-done, impactful movie on the topic but it’s not appropriate for all ages and includes sexual references. Check out one review here.
12. Disable Facebook Places. Facebook Places is a geo-location tool that allows a Facebook user to “check in” at a location such as a store, restaurant or event. It’s great for advertisers but there really isn’t a compelling reason teens need to broadcast where they are. You can easily disable this feature by going into their Settings. Also disable anyone else‘s ability to tag them in Facebook Places.
What other digital challenges do you face as a parent? How can we help each other? Let’s discuss.