Yes, the day you have been dreading has finally arrived. Your child has asked you if they can set up a Facebook account. There are a number of reasons why you may or may not want your child to have an account, but let’s save that discussion for another blog post! For now, let us assume you have given into their pleas and agreed to let them set up their own account. But now what? What initial steps should you take to help minimise the risks your child may encounter on the site? Here are a few of my recommendations:
Follow the age limits Before you go a step further, make sure that your child meets the age requirements. Facebook requires all users to be over the age of 13, and this stems from the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (USA). It is important that you do not allow your child to fake their age to get an account early – they need to wait until they are of legal age.
Establish strong privacy settings Once the account has been created, take the take to explore the various privacy settings that Facebook provides. Your child needs to understand the difference between posting publicly and privately and I recommend that your child keep their profile privacy settings tight. At their age, there is no need for anyone other than their friends to view their content, but your child needs to understand how to customize their privacy settings to allow for this (again, I think there may be another blog post just waiting to happen here!)
Profile picture: keep it generic Most people use a photo of themselves in their profile picture, to make them easily recognizable to family and friends searching for them. However, in the case of your child I would recommend that they refrain from using photos that reveal their physical appearance. This may minimise the chance of online predators (who scroll through Facebook profiles looking for vulnerable targets) attempting to make contact with your child. Encourage them to instead use a photo of their favourite cartoon character, a quote or a nice piece of scenary.
Regularly review their friend list One condition you ought to considering making with your child is that they are only allowed to accept friend requests from people they know in the real world. It is a good idea to sit down with your child regularly and manually go through their Facebook friend list. If they can’t tell you how they know that person – delete them.
Show them how to report and block Facebook allows users to report profiles and pages that post inappropriate or offensive content, and block users who are harassing, bullying or being inappropriate. Ensure your child understands how to report and block users and also encourage them to discuss trolls and cyberbullies with you should they encounter them.
Hammer it in: Think before you post! It gets said so often, but everyone needs to think before they post. It may start to get tedious, but you need to ensure you child fully understands the implications of posting content to Facebook – it is permanent, sharable and highly visible. Content posted today could affect them – positively and negatively – in years to come, so it is necessary to ensure they can understand the responsibility that comes with having a Facebook account.
Join Facebook If you are not already on Facebook, consider joining! In using Facebook you will gain valuable knowledge about how the site operates, what trends and risks may arise and how to deal with them. This puts you in a position of authority when talking to your child about Facebook safety. Further to this, you could then ‘friend’ your child’s Facebook profile. While this does not necessarily mean you will see everything they do on Facebook (they could put you on a restricted viewing list or create a fake profile, for instance), it could at least give you some indication of whether they are using the site appropriately.
Do you have any other tips that were useful when you child began using Facebook? Leave a comment to share your experiences!