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Parental Controls for Facebook? It’s YOU, Parents!

With Facebook’s HUGE IPO just a few months away, I’m hoping that with the gazillion dollars that the company, founders, investors and employees are going to potentially make, that they will spend a tiny fraction of that on kids and on their on-line safety. Facebook has been under fire, it seems, forever, for not protecting the privacy of users and even with questionable fixes and new features designed to minimize privacy concerns, I, as a parent, am still concerned!

I wrote an article a few months ago called “10 Ideas for Facebook Parental Controls and What You Can Do Until They Are There” because I’m tired of waiting for Facebook to agree that this type of protection for our children is important or needed.

My ideas, for what they are worth, are pretty straight forward:

  1. Implement time restrictions
  2. Have robust & non-complicated privacy settings
  3. Notifications to parents of friend requests
  4. Editing and easy reviews by parents of profiles
  5. Restrictions on text messaging
  6. Parental view of a profile without having to be a friend
  7. Control of “purchases”
  8. Photo tagging notifications to prevent bullying
  9. “Limited” Facebook interface
  10. Parent linking to kid’s account
  11. Parent stream limiting

So what do each of these things mean? Well, you will have to read my original post. But after a few months of reflection, I really think that technology alone won’t solve this problem.

But what IS the problem exactly? Just that kids are on Facebook…kids that are probably too young to understand the implications of how a post, tagging or status update could affect them later on in life. Or that Facebook is a playground for bullying and social aggression. Facebook does say that you have to be 13 years old or older to sign up, but I would guess that there are a huge number of 9-12 year olds who are “illegally” using Facebook.

Facebook may not make money from protecting those “under aged” users, in fact, they probably have to spend a lot more money ensuring that those under 18 have even higher levels of privacy around the data that is collected about them and who it is shared with.

I ask, would you feel better about letting tweens and teens onto Facebook if there were better feedback loops from kid activity to parent in place? Do you even let your kids use Facebook?

I have to admit, my oldest daughter who will be 13 in a couple of months uses it. We let her on it after attending a ballet school in New York City that had many kids from not only around the country but around the world. Also, she keeps up to date on the dance world, dancers, her dancer friends and other ballet companies via Facebook. BUT, her account is HEAVILY monitored by my wife (and me a bit as well). And our daughter knows that this happens and that if we were NOT monitoring her Facebook (and texting for that matter), activity, she would lose the privilege. And we regularly discuss with her what she should do and shouldn’t do.

The bottom line here is that while it would be great for Facebook to throw a bunch of coding power at the Parental Control issue, I have a feeling that they won’t. They are now required by the FTC to notify users when they make tweaks to privacy. I’m hoping that they can take it a bit further and give parents a few more tools at their disposal to make their kids a bit safer on Facebook.

Until then, however, it is the responsibility of the parent to provide those controls as well as educate around the dangers of using social media at a young age. At the end of my article, I offer a few tips: talk with your kids, work with your kids & monitor your kids. I would like to add another one that is very critical – BE THERE for your kids.That is probably the most important Parental Control you can have, the one of your relationship with your child and ensuring that there is a constant 2-way dialog. Be ready to ask and answer questions and drop everything at a moments notice. Talk about bullying online, how once you put something on the Internet, it is pretty much there permanently, how your actions that you do or things that are done to you can be seen and are recorded for posterity. Even be prepared to take away Facebook for a period of time to teach your kids a lesson (hopefully you will survive their rage).

Are your kids on Facebook? How has the experience been for them and for you? Do you regularly monitor them? Are you their Facebook “Friend”? I’m curious as to what people are doing to protect their kids online.

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