Before 2004, if you had heard the word Facebook, you might have envisioned some kind of high school picture directory or a picture book that teaches how to draw cartoon faces.
Seven years and 600 million users later, Facebook means a lot more than that: for both you and your teen.
Headlines like this, this, and this are very sobering. Unfortunately, stories like these are so common they are almost predictable: a teenager meets someone on the internet (many times pretending to be many years younger than he or she is), they exchange pictures and phone numbers, and agree to meet somewhere. The man (or woman) turns out to be much different than the person they portrayed online and abuses the child. Whether or not the criminal is caught, the biggest loss is suffered by the youth who often goes on to experience incomprehensible pain.
Facebook isn’t evil. In fact, it can be a wonderful way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances when separated by distance. By being conscientious and using the tools Facebook has created, we can protect our teenagers online.
Facebook is continually working to improve privacy settings for their users, in order to allow them to better control what content is visible.
Rules for minors — Children younger than 14 aren’t allowed to have a Facebook account (according to both Facebook policy and national law). Many “tweens” and others evade this rule by simply entering an incorrect birth year when setting up their account. Unfortunately, there is no device yet invented to prevent people lying about their age. As a parent, you have the responsibility to monitor what your children do on the internet. This doesn’t mean you have to constantly be breathing down your kid’s neck, but you should pay attention to who they interact with, what sites they visit, etc.
Minors (anyone younger than 18) are automatically given tighter security settings than their older counterparts. They aren’t included in public search listings and only their basic information (name, profile picture, gender, networks, and username) is listed to “non-friends”.
Privacy Settings — You can specify who gets to see what information about you or your teen. For example, you can limit who sees your teens birthday to: everyone, friends of friends and networks, friends and networks, friends of friends, friends only, or you can completely customize a list of who you want to see. You can preview how your profile looks and even see how it looks to different people. When you are editing your settings, simply click, “Preview my Profile” and then type a friend’s name in the box near the top to see what information that friend can see. Then you can go back and customize it some more if it still needs tweaking.
Block — Jus as in real life, make sure you teach your children to be careful around strangers. There’s no need to add anyone as a friend, just to be be nice. Once in a while, an unwanted visitor may try to “friend” your teenager on Facebook. Make sure your children know of the dangers of interacting with strangers on the web and know how to use the “block” feature if someone is persistently giving them undesired attention. Blocked people will be unable to interact with or see your child’s profile on Facebook. Your child can also block obnoxious apps like FarmVille, PetVille, CityVille, FrontierVille, or Zoo World. You can go back and edit your block lists by clicking on the account drop-down menu, clicking privacy settings, then clicking “Edit your lists.”
Postings — Teach your children to be careful with what they post on their wall. Teenagers should avoid posting information on their current whereabouts, especially when they are alone. They should also be careful not to post extremely negative status updates or comments. Even though improving Facebook controls help you to limit who sees your posts, it doesn’t always work out the way you plan. In the case of Dan Leone, a negative comment about his employers (the Philadelphia Eagles) got him fired.Other stories have circulated around the news about similar experiences on Twitter. Teenagers should be prepared for any eyes to see what they post.
By playing it safe on Facebook, your children will not only be safer, but also have more enjoyable online experience. You won’t ever regret being proactive and involved in the lives of your kids.
About the Author
Derek Gurr is a writer for MyCollegesandCareers.com. My Colleges and Careers helps people determine if an online education is right for them and helps them search for online degrees that can help them reach their goals.
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