Commentary

Facing Facebook

Most young people now have Facebook accounts. My daughter is one of them. Do you wonder how Facebook works and why kids are so interested in it? I hope you find these reflections helpful.

First, a summary for the uninitiated. Facebook (www.facebook.com) is a popular online social networking Web site. Users set up accounts, create personal profiles, and then “friend” (yes, in the Facebook world, it’s a verb) other users. Once you are Facebook friends, you can see and comment on each other’s content. I use Facebook to stay in touch with close friends, reconnect with old friends, and keep up with faraway relatives. And so does my daughter. But like many activities, Facebook is something that a parent has to monitor pretty closely.

Here’s how I do it:

* I stay aware that this is going on. Find out if your child is on Facebook. If so, ask your kid to show you his or her profile, wall, and friends list. Be aware that Facebook posts a minimum age requirement of 13, which many kids simply ignore.

* My wife and I review our daughter’s friends list constantly. If she’s become Facebook friends with a classmate we’ve never heard about, we ask to see her profile. And if someone uses foul or abusive language on Facebook (we’ve seen some nasty things), we have our daughter delete him from her friends list. (That person’s feelings won’t be hurt. If you “unfriend” someone, she’s never even notified.) And, of course, make sure kids never accept friend requests from strangers. If she doesn’t know someone in real life, she shouldn’t know that person on Facebook.

* Use the privacy settings. You can control who sees anything you post. Don’t be afraid to change the settings if someone sees something that you don’t think they could see.

* We know our daughter’s Facebook ID and password, and we’ve occasionally logged in directly to her account to check in on her private activity. She doesn’t really like this, but that’s one of the conditions we’ve placed on her Facebook access.

* There are undoubtedly a whole host of adolescent psycho-social issues that Facebook raises. Kids will be upset by photos of friends at events they weren’t invited to, or count Facebook friends like it’s a popularity scoreboard. If our daughter’s Facebook life starts distorting her real life, we’ll limit her use of it.

Finally, as much as I stay aware of what my daughter does on Facebook, I also have found it best to only rarely participate directly on her Facebook. A kid can be positively mortified when her dad posts a comment about a change in her Facebook “relationship status.” We’ve agreed that while my presence on her Facebook might appear to be somewhat silent, it is still very present.

A good metaphor is to imagine your kid’s Facebook life like it is a party of young adolescents of mixed gender happening in your family room. You don’t stand in the middle of the room the whole time, but you do make sure you introduce yourself to the kids, you wander in and out of earshot, occasionally you pop your head in to make sure everything is OK, and you certainly don’t just take off and leave them alone in the house for the weekend, right?

I am not claiming to be an expert on this. There are several issues that I’m still wrestling with — like how to keep her from being overwhelmed by the advertising messages that drive Facebook’s business. But I do know that I like using Facebook to keep up with my own friends, and I understand why my daughter would want to do the same thing.

Jason Scherschligt manages Web content and collaboration for Capella University in Minneapolis. He and his family live in Plymouth, Minnesota, where they attend St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church (ELCA). He is also a board member of Metro Lutheran. This article is adapted from the school newsletter at Wayzata East Middle School.