If your kids spend more time on social-media sites than going to school, you’re not alone: A recent StatsCan report says 98 percent of older teens are online, and Facebook and Twitter are among the net’s most-visited sites. (You probably have your own accounts set up too.) The huge popularity of the sites and the amount of time your kid spends surfing and chatting raises questions: Should you follow and friend your tween? How do you monitor your kids on social-networking sites? We found five tips for doing it right.
Don’t think you have to be friends If your child is under 13, friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and absolutely monitor what they’re doing online. If you have a teen who refuses your friend request, don’t worry, says Judy Arnall, a Calgary-based parenting expert and author of soon-to-be-released Plugged-In Parenting. “After 13 they want to individuate from their parents. They want their door closed and they don’t want you in their Facebook circle. They want their privacy and that’s OK—it’s part of that stage.”
Shut up and lurk Nothing’s as public as the Internet, and to tweens and teens, that means one thing: they don’t want to be seen with mom and dad. Some parents try to be too much of a pal, posting comments on their child’s wall and joining in on conversations, says Louise Fox, an etiquette expert in Toronto. “But that’s too public and embarrassing.” Arnall agrees, suggesting you stay mum. “It’s like when you’re carpooling and the kids are talking and you just listen and pick up on what’s going on,” she says. “Don’t be an active participant and hopefully they’ll forget you’re there.”
Don’t give too much information Watching what you post on your own page is important—especially when it comes to photos. Fox’s rule is to never post pictures of anyone before telling them—and that includes uploading your favourite photo of your kid’s bare bum on the beach when he as three. Lead by example and make sure you practise what you preach.
Think about privacy What if your kid is the one posting inappropriate information, foul language, photos of themselves partying or bullying comments? Talk to your child offline and set ground rules, says Fox. “Be honest. Explain that you can see it’s a great tool and remind them that schools, employers and financial institutions (for example) might look at that information.” And, she says, talk to your kids about bullying and how others might feel if they’re ganged up on online. Finally, familiarize yourself with Facebook’s privacy settings and make sure your tween’s are appropriate. Then double-check what’s out there from time to time by Googleing your child. This is also a great way check up on them if they refuse to friend you, says Arnall. “You’re seeing what’s available to the public and that’s what’s really important.”
If in doubt, ask for help Be aware of what your kids can contribute to this conversation—they’re probably much more familiar with this technology than you are. “This generation knows more in some areas that we do,” Arnall says. If you tap into your child’s Internet expertise, she’ll probably give you valuable tips and will be much more open to your suggestions regarding privacy and safety online.