What Christian Parents Need to Know About Facebook

First in a three-part series on parents, teens, and Facebook.

by Toni Birdsong
One of the most common questions I get asked by parents is if it’s okay to let their son or daughter have a Facebook page. The first thing I do is gage where they are emotionally with social media. Then I listen. To their concerns. To their hearts. It’s a really big deal. Facebook has added an unexpected—and sometimes overwhelming—dimension to parenting today.

The good news is that God has given us as parents everything we need to lead these beautiful, expressive, swift-moving digital natives He’s entrusted to our care.

To clarify, this series is written to Christian parents in general and does not address the exceptions that exist in every family.

In general my answer to the Facebook question is yes. You should let your teen have a Facebook page if and only if you intend to monitor it—consistently. For teens today, Facebook is a vital connection channel where life, friendship, art, memories, music, and conversation intersect hourly—whether parents agree with that, or even like it.

That doesn’t mean that Facebook is a free-for-all graffiti wall for kids to write or post anything they feel like. Proverb’s directive to Christian parents to “Train up a child in the way he should go” extends to the digital hallways and hangouts.

7 Facebook Tips for Christian Parents

  1. Put safety first. Go to Facebook’s “Help” section. Here you’ll find the “Safety Center” and in there, a section for parents called “Help Your Teens Play it Safe.” This is great stuff. Don’t skip it. There’s also great information for teens here too and very helpful tools and resources to give you and your teen a solid, safe foundation in the Facebook arena.
  2. If your teen has a Facebook page, you need one too. The best way to understand Facebook and monitor your teen’s page is to get one of your own. It’s also the best way to “model” how to use Facebook in a godly way for your kids. Get started here.
  3. Max privacy settings. Parents, don’t leave this up to your teen, it’s up to you. Set all photos, personal information, and wall posts to private. It’s easy, here’s how: Go to the “Home” view of the page, click, Privacy Settings. You can set tight standards for who can view what information and pre-approving post and photo tags.
  4. Know passwords. Check passwords. This is where some parents (and teens) cringe but in our home, Facebook is a privilege and part of that privilege is giving parents all passwords. Safety trumps privacy with minors. Having a password allows you to check conversations to see if anyone “outside” of the safety loop of friends and family have accessed your teen’s page. In our home, if the password gets changed without permission, Facebook gets banned.
  5. Discuss what’s appropriate to post. This conversation is going to sound different in the Christian household. In addition to the obvious—no sexy photos, no drinking photos, no photos or videos that humiliate others—talk candidly to your kids about what it means to be “set apart” by God on Facebook as a Christian. @stickyJesus: how to live out your faith online is a great start. Teach your kids that their Facebook wall is actually a stage and the spotlight is on them. Remind them that their opinions, videos, and jokes matter—to God, to your family, and to the people who interact with them online.
  6. Talk about the power of words. Teens on Facebook need to be aware of the power of their words, the “tone” of their posts and comments on friends’ posts. Remind them (repeatedly) that once they post something online, it’s out of their hands—even if they’ve taken it down—someone could have shared it somewhere else. Sign this covenant with your teen and post it by the computer.
  7. Discern teachable moments. For the Christian parent, Facebook can become a series of powerful teachable moments that need to take place under your roof—and not be taught to them elsewhere by someone else. Facebook will allow you a glimpse inside your teen’s heart—what’s bugging him or her, what’s confusing, and what’s important to them.

    When your kids post questionable comments (and they will), be discerning. Not every post or photo requires your commentary or coaching. Let them find their voice and make (safe) mistakes. However, opportunities—critical opportunities—will arise about how they might “rephrase,” a comment or reconsider the video or lyrics they’ve posted or “liked.” If you are paying attention (and keeping a low-profile) your teen’s Facebook posts will open doors to talk to your kids about God’s take on integrity, bullying, purity, conflict resolution, gossip, tolerance, and love.

What’s your biggest challenge with your teen’s Facebook page?

Tweet/Post this today:
Parents, establish ground rules for your teens on Facebook. Go here: http://bit.ly/c18IqH #StandApart #LiveSticky

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  • http://www.tonyjalicea.com Tony J. Alicea

    I LOVE this, Toni. I don’t have kids but I would definitely use this as a guide. One of the biggest things I would emphasize is that just like in real life, what you say can’t be unsaid. Even if you delete something online, it is never truly gone forever. It’s out there somewhere.

  • http://sandysandmeyer.wordpress.com/ Sandy

    Bravo, Toni! In the Sandmeyer household, I have passwords to Facebook and email accounts of my 17 year old son.  He has never balked about it because it was a rule from day one.  We do ask him to take down posts that are inappropriate, but careful not to nit-pick every little thing.  When a non-Christian friend called this weekend for some comfort and support, it was a teaching moment for our son.  I explained that it was because I lived my faith online and unashamedly, that this friend came to me for support.  I might let him change his password at 18, but maybe I just won’t mention it.  :)

  • Oheisner

    Excellent post!
    All Christian PARENTS of Teens (or about to be teens) MUST READ!
    Thanks Toni :)

  • Anonymous

    @slcsand:disqus … that’s how it’s done! We need more moms like you. The great thing is, we’ve got each other as parents in this digital world to counsel, learn from, and share with. I know that’s a “perk” from our loving God. In our house, Facebook, at times, has become a way for me to connect during the “I”m not talking to you,” phases. Little encouragements (publicaly) go a long way. More positives than negatives with our kids on Facebook — but I think it’s only because we’re intentional, like you. Keep up the good work mamma! Thanks for weighing in! :)

  • Anonymous

    @tonyjalicea:disqus …. isn’t that so true?! I know you must get that feeling too as you read (and re-read) blog posts … or any posts. When in doubt = don’t. Thanks for dropping by — always good to see your face. Enjoyed your post on anti-resolutions yesterday as well >>> http://www.tonyalicea.com. NO “safe victories” for me this year either! Always appreciate your heart & your honesty! Bless you and your sweet bride in 2012! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1448596068 Carol Lock Holmes

    Awesome Awesome!  I may have the only teenage girl that has a Facebook page but doesn’t ever really post anything.  She’s a lurker.  Even still, there are SO many things you can talk about with your kids just by looking at pages of kids they know, and even finding out what your own child thinks is inappropriate.  There’s definitely lots of discussions to be had.  Plus it will make it much easier on both of us if/when she decides to be more interactive with her own page.  Thanks for this, Toni!  Love it!!

  • Anonymous

    @facebook-1448596068:disqus … thanks for your comment. It’s always good to stay “in front of” rather than behind these critical conversations. Social media / teens = an on-going, never-ending conversation. God is good to give us His light to guide. Bless you!

  • http://jimkane.wordpress.com/ Jim Kane

    Good post. Neither of my teen boys are on FB and they have no desire to be. Okay with me!
    I ‘left’ FB for 4 months and then returned to a ‘page’ only presence. I have other social media avenues that are far more enriching.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=671101964 Jennifer Adams Klein

    Great post! I have several years before this is an issue for us, but even the example of good parenting here is encouraging! Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    @facebook-671101964:disqus … it’s comin’ girl; it’s comin’. By the time they log on, there will probably be another social network and most everything will be 100% mobile — an even bigger challenge for parents. Emmanuel = God with us. :)

  • Anonymous

    @b5ce8d95113758bb547d9ec4da30921a:disqus …. missed seeing you and very happy you dropped by pastor! An enriching social media avenue I like: http://jimkane.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=671101964 Jennifer Adams Klein

    Yes, thank God He is with us!!!!

  • Anonymous

    @d0dee3ab69a7ee631eb2df0b83bcd31e:disqus … thanks so much for the thumbs up. Please pass along to parents of teens. Bless you!

  • Austin

    This is absurd. Teens need their privacy. If you can’t trust their judgment, don’t allow them to use Facebook. Don’t ever login as your children. That’s like snooping through their bedroom and then reading their diary. Ridiculous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.stilley Kevin Stilley

    Your suggestions are excellent.  We have found that there is value in our oldest son being on Facebook in that we know more about his friends than we ever would otherwise.  Also, it is great to be able to come alongside him to discuss how his use of humor, sarcasm, word choice, etc. might effect the heart of those with whom he is interacting. 

  • Anonymous

    @facebook-552992362:disqus … you are walking in sync with the positives of this tool – a very wise man. I love finding out things about friends’ of my teenager – I think God gives us red flags as a gift. I also love knowing when my son is having a tough day via his posts. It helps me tremendously. 

  • Anonymous

    @0731254e3b7cc74a0a1c47606ca5db54:disqus … I appreciate your input Austin. Unfortunately, Facebook is a public domain and a place where countless cases of bullying, sexual predators, racism, and gossip have lead to devistation in the lives of teens’ — I’m sure you’ve seen the news. As a parent I understand privacy and I don’t snoop around my teens room or read his diary – but in the public forum of Facebook, I’m not about to let a minor who God has entrusted me to protect and guide become a target or post things that will come back to damage his reputation. The Internet never forgets and the “crowd”  mentality is not big on grace. 
    When we know better – God calls us to do better – especially for our kids. I’d love it if you’d come back and keep the conversation cooking! :)

  • Father of 4

    Fantastic article, really looking forward to the rest. As a parent of 2 teens, and with two others close behind (all boys), I consider expert level knowledge of whatever social media tools our kids use to be a crucial responsibility.

    Not mentioned in this article, but hopefully touched on in one of the upcoming ones, what do others think about requiring your kids to have you on their friends list? If handled with consideration (and you haven’t been dumped into a restricted group), this is a great way of keeping in touch.

  • Anonymous

    @520552331e6f46a88dff737cb98b2d88:disqus … awesome input — I’ll be sure to address that in one of the next articles and give tips as well as insight from a group of teens who have kindly agreed to be my focus group. So much better when the conversation includes ALL of us trying to find better ways to communicate. 
    Thanks so much for weighing in — AND know that you and your four are being prayed for TODAY. These kids are so precious to the Lord and their hearts and minds are His canvas of hope to the next generation. This is such a big deal . . . 

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennis.kevitt Dennis Kevitt

    The biggest issue I have is “responsible, Christian” parents who violate FB’s own age requirements to have a FB account.  Our daughter is 12 and has wanted a FB account for a year.  She has to wait until next May and her 13th birthday.  Guidelines or not, some kids may be “ready” before age 13.  I think our daughter was and is.  However, when a parent lies about a child’s age or allows the child to lie about his/her age to get a FB account what is the thing you are teaching them? 

    I know one impact.  It makes it more difficult for parents who are trying to teach their children that the rules are there for everyone and apply to everyone, including them.  Lying to circumvent them is not acceptable.

  • Anonymous

    Great point @facebook-1675901930:disqus . . . it’s a liability thing with Facebook and that’s why they’ve got so many rules. It is a challenge and definitely a conversation point in general and within families. 

  • Anonymous

    Great point @facebook-1675901930:disqus . . . it’s a liability thing with Facebook and that’s why they’ve got so many rules. It is a challenge and definitely a conversation point in general and within families. 

  • Holly

    I am currently the guardian of my 14 year old brother in law. He came to us with a Facebook page, over 300 friends, and many of them are a little concerning. The friends pages are full of bad language, inappropriate photos and posts. Should I have him unfriend these people. Ideally, I would rather him delete his page and start over.

  • Thania Francisco Jaimes

    excelente información, muy complementaria y relevante