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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

10 tips for getting started on Facebook

This week’s post on the pros and cons of Facebook for kids has generated a lot of discussion. Opinion seems to be equally divided as to whether social networking at a young age is a good idea or a bad one. While many parents see the benefits of an early online presence, others are determined to put it off for as long as possible.

What’s clear is that despite Facebook’s minimum age limit of 13, thousands of 11 and 12-year-olds and even younger kids have decided that they want in. Many parents, seeing an opportunity for a “teachable moment”, or fearful that their kids will set up an account without their knowledge, have gone along with the early sign-up.

Leaving aside the fact that opening a Facebook account for an 11 or 12-year old means lying about their age, I have some sympathy with the parents that say yes. A straw poll of my daughter’s 6th grade friends suggests that a Facebook presence is far from unusual. And if you know some kids are doing it openly, then there must be many others that are doing it on the quiet.

So what are the dangers for tweens and young teens on Facebook? Well, as our pros and cons article suggests, there can be many. More and more, Facebook is a gateway to the entire Internet, with linked fan pages, YouTube videos, and click-through ads everywhere you look. There are no fences around Facebook.

The other thing to remember is that however well you lock down your child’s privacy settings, he or she is only as safe as their list of friends. Once they invite or accept a friend, then they are effectively giving away part ownership of their page. They can receive hurtful comments, they can see inappropriate posts from friends or friends of friends, and they can be tagged in photos. Learn how to “unfriend” and block people and don’t be afraid to follow through.

If you do decide to open an account with your child, here are some other things to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure you have their password. Having the password should be a condition of opening the account. And don’t think that just because you have the password, everything is OK. Check in on a regular basis.
  2. Learn how to lock down the privacy settings. And check back every couple of weeks; Facebook has a habit of making frequent changes to the settings.
  3. Remind them that Facebook is permanent. Posts cannot be taken back.
  4. Don’t let them say anything unkind about anyone. Even if that person isn’t on Facebook, it will always get back to them.
  5. Remind them that other people will be looking at their Facebook page. That can include friends, other parents, teachers, coaches, neighbors – and, of course, grandma! Only post information that you are comfortable with everyone seeing.
  6. Think before you post your own comments. It’s great to be friends with your child on Facebook but if you want to keep in that way, be restrained with your own comments. Comments that can be laughed off in the house can be excruciatingly embarrassing for a 13-year-old if you post them on Facebook. Similarly, watch what you post on your own page. If you are friends with your child, they can see everything on your account too!
  7. Only post pictures or videos of other people with their permission. That includes pictures of Mommy in a bathing suit!
  8. Careful who you invite to be your child’s friend. Keep an eye on friends’ pages. That cool older cousin from college may have a more interesting social life than you thought!
  9. It’s OK to ignore friend requests. If your child gets friend requests from people she doesn’t know very well or from a notorious “mean girl”, it’s OK to just ignore them.
  10. Teach them to be careful about clicking on links. A lot of the ads on Facebook are inappropriate or can lead to scams. Teach them to recognize an ad and steer clear.

Do you have a young child on Facebook? What’s been your experience? Do you have additional tips on keeping safe? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

Comment by Geekbabe, posted 9/18/2010, 7:35 AM:

Your tips are excellent advice as always! My only thought here is this, if Facebook rules say you must be 13 to open an account & we sit there with a child who is younger than 13, help them open an account, what message are we sending our kids? That lying to get what we want is okay?
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