What to do when your Facebook-lovin’ teen starts dating

By Stacey Ross

I had not experienced this precise feeling since college. Sitting in a sandwich shop looking at the titles of a half-dozen writing assignments I needed to pump out, I grew more and more afflicted by writer's block. I was at a loss, for some reason, as to how to get started and reminded myself of what one of my metaphysical friends preaches: “Just let the universe guide you!”

So, the universe directed me to a tea refill! I stared at my notes and, among others, "Article #4" stood out: “DISCUSSION vs. INSTRUCTION – approaches we as parents would be wise to take when it comes to our kids’ Facebook accounts and dating.”

Serendipity happens. My inspiration for Article #4 sat down right across from my booth! A mere earful of his phone conversation gave me ALL the kick-start I needed, and I was off!

“Biff” (we’ll call him) appeared to be 18 to 20 years old, an athletic surfer/college student catch-of-a-guy. One of his hands held a phone, and the other alternated between his sandwich and beverage.

Speaking to whom was likely his girlfriend, he appeared to be wrapping up a call: “Babe, I post like maybe once a month, but I really like to keep our private stuff private. This online stuff is just not my thing! My ‘About’ section is totally general and I mostly post like beach shots, if anything. YOU know that! My sister posting her after-boob-job photos kinda threw me off lately! Dude, it would not surprise me if she got them their own website! Last thing I want to do is see who ‘likes’ them, let alone what the comments say. Seriously!”

My Bic was rollin' like liquid!

His girlfriend must have responded on the other end with something to the nature of: “Well, why don’t you post more about us to your friends?”  I am totally guessing, though!

Biff continued like a gentleman: “I love that you are mine; I just don't feel the need to Facebook and tweet my life out, you know? This is why I get creeped out and squirmy... Yeah, I get that, babe…. Now you….”

He stood up and went to the self-serve soda station and wrapped up that convo in a bow, smirking and gently shaking his head, apparently not getting hammered by his girlfriend too hard!

My eavesdropping (well, he was a tad loud) was all I needed, because had I heard any more, cold green tea might have started spewing out of my nose, fueled by a burst of sympathetic laughter! I put on my earphones.

Oh, to be young and single!!!

Parental Monitoring - Oh Joy!

Biff reminded me of the stress, drama and safety risks that can come about when posting publicly (or even privately)! Teens should be guided correctly and shown that compromising their reputation or making themselves vulnerable online can be a pretty risky business.

Teenagers might not see foresee the reality that future universities, employers, etc. might be doing their homework on them. (Actually, it can be a real plus to have an established online presence.) Colleagues, family members and others might also be privy to their updates as well, so it is in a teen’s best interests to play it safe!

Nichole, aka The Guilty Parent shares: “As far as dating and Facebook, we've not encountered any issues. In fact, it's been pretty positive. It's only been my oldest thus far and his friends and girlfriends have friended me on Facebook. I kind of like that, because then I don't feel like they're hiding things. In fact, my oldest had a girl that he's taking to prom post something very sweet to his page the other night and he told me that his night was made and to go read it.”

But this blogger is no softy; Nichole has specific guidelines for her kids and she is not afraid to follow through on them!

Stephanie Saad Thompson, of Stephanie Saad Thompson Public Relations, offers: “My daughter is not quite yet a teen and not on Facebook, but when she is, there will be some hard and fast rules. I will always have access to her Facebook account, and will monitor it daily. I will give her a social media training session, just as with my clients. My main message to her will be that she should not post anything on Facebook that she would not want me, her grandmother, complete strangers, and the media to see, because potentially all of the above could. Being teens, though, I think it's unreasonable to expect them to act responsibly 100 percent of the time, so parental monitoring is key.”

Rhea Brown, author and marketing coach, wrapped it up succinctly: “Your online reputation will always be there. So, if you cannot live your actions publicly, be careful what you do privately.”

Privacy rights? Say what?

There are various ways to oversee your kids’ accounts and allow them (some) privacy, but the bottom line in regards to your kids’ digital footprint is that it is crucial to restrict their online activity to platforms that you are able to monitor. Your kids' including you from the get-go, as far as agreeing to your friending each other, will likely set the tone and help curtail their going wild online, but ultimately, they will have choices to make.

April Welch, Organizing Expert at The Mental Clutter Coach has a resourceful tip: “I set up MinorMonitor.com for my youngest to respect his privacy, so I didn't have to go into his account and snoop. The site sends you alerts via email. It has helped put the stops on innocent things headed in the wrong direction.”

A family affair

Once your Facebook-using teen starts dating, it’s advisable to have an open discussion of the following areas:

  • Are you using Facebook to communicate things that would be better said or done in person?
  • Is it possible to interpret your posts as inappropriate, manipulative, harmful, confusing or deceitful?
  • Are you and your friends' personal issues made public?   
  • What are your thoughts about indicating your relationship status?    
  • Do you monitor your privacy settings?
  • Are you willing to only have Facebook friends that you know well in person?     
  • How much time do you invest on Facebook and other platforms, and what are your hopes for that investment?

Sometimes engaging in conversations using questions, like those above, opens teens and young adults up to a more flowing and interactive conversation, rather than sitting them down with an “OK kid, here’s the deal” approach.

However, you would be so ahead of the game if you establish clear ground rules before your kids get accounts.  Then, follow up with what you say you are going to do. This is one part of the world of parenting I am so not looking forward to in the next few years!

And to Biff, wherever you are: If you have a brother who is ready to date my girl in say, 40 years or so, look up Stacey Ross on Facebook and I will see what I can do, cuz I like your style!

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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