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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.

Friends with Your Child on Facebook? Maybe Not...

One of the ways parents can keep an eye on what their kids are up to online is to join their social network. In Facebook parlance, this is called “friending” them. If you can get them to accept you as a friend, you can then see who their other friends are, make sure no inappropriate photos or videos get posted, and generally get invaluable insight into how your child thinks and acts when he or she is just “hanging out” online.

Of course, online friendships between parents and their children are still relatively rare and can be difficult to establish once the child gets to high-school age. It has a better chance of survival if the parent is friended when the child’s social network account is first set-up and the parent keeps a relatively low profile. Most teenage girls won’t appreciate mom or dad posting cute photos from family vacations or responding to a slightly racy wall post from a boy at school!

However, if you are one of the lucky parents to have made it on to your child’s friend list, there are still some not-so-obvious barriers. Up to now, anyone who has the patience to locate and adjust their privacy settings has been able to customize those settings to exclude named individuals from seeing certain information.

That’s right: if your child properly tags photos and videos and then specifically names you in his privacy settings, those pics and videos just won’t show up when you look at his page. The same goes for basic and personal information. He can even exclude you from seeing his friends list, although cutting you out at that level would be very obvious!

And from recent Facebook announcements, it appears that a user’s flexibility to adjust privacy settings is about to get much better (or much worse, depending on your point-of-view!) As well as making the settings simpler and more accessible, Facebook plans to allow members to be more selective about what they present to a range of friends and the outside world.

To most members, this makes perfect sense and mirrors the situation in the real world. You have very close friends, not-so-close friends, and a bunch of people you haven’t seen since grade school. And then you have family! It makes sense to treat each set of “friends” differently and give each of them different access rights to your personal content depending on how close they are.

So parents, even if you have made it onto your child’s Facebook page don’t get too complacent. Like in real life, you may only get to see what they want you to see!

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