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Facebook advice for parents

Sara Pacelle

As summer winds down and back to school approaches, I know my 13 year old daughter will start up asking me again for her own Facebook account.  During the summer I had a slight reprieve as she was busy with lots of activities, but, I have to say that during this past school year she was relentless!  I guess I have been avoiding her request (pleading is more like it) because I myself am not that comfortable with kids being on Facebook.  Sure, she tells me that “all” her friends already have their own accounts, but I know that’s an exaggeration.  Many teenagers do and I know the legal age for a Facebook account is 13, but I am sure there are still some kids who have parents like me who just don’t know whether it’s appropriate.  The Internet can be a scary place and I have heard lots about kids being “cyber bullied” or becoming addicted to sites like Facebook.  Since my own childhood did not include Facebook, I am hesitant to accept the fact that it is part of my children’s lives.   I understand businesses, adults and older teenagers using it, but do kids have the maturity level to navigate such a powerful medium?  When my daughter patted me on the shoulder one day and calmly explained to me that “Don’t worry, Mom, Facebook is fine, if you know how to use it”, I realized that I needed to get educated.

So, I went on a mission to find an excellent resource for parents like me to get the scoop on the pros and cons of Facebook. What I needed was, Facebook advice for parents.

I contacted BJ Fogg and Linda Fogg who are co-authors of the book Facebook for Parents and of their website www.facebookforparents.org .  BJ is a Facebook expert, a research psychologist and the Director of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab.  Fortune Magazine named him one of “10 New Gurus You Should Know”.  Linda is a mother of eight children who has the unique vantage point of being a mother of active teens online.  Linda is also a business owner and involved in several overseas humanitarian projects.  In addition to authoring this book, both of them teach a course called “Facebook for Parents” at Stanford University. 

Linda was kind enough to speak with us about her book.

Your book is entitled Facebook for Parents, Answers to the Top 25 Questions.  I like how it is concise, clearly written and organized around some very relevant questions.  In fact, your questions were the exact ones my friends and I had, mainly about how to protect our children on Facebook.  How did you choose these particular questions?

The top 25 questions are clearly the most asked questions that parents have.  This became very obvious as BJ and I taught the class Facebook for Parents at Sanford University. We had a class of 75 parents that we taught over a two month period.  I also have organized a Parents Advisory Council that I get frequent feedback from.   I travel all over the United States teaching workshops and speaking.  It is from these various groups that I am able to continue to keep in touch with what parents really think and what their questions and concerns are regarding Facebook.   I would love to add more parents to my Parents Advisory Council.  Any parent that is interested in participating can email me at [email protected]

You compare Facebook to an unknown neighborhood, where you wouldn’t let your kid enter unless you knew the pitfalls and potentials first.  I see your book as a great guide to this Facebook neighborhood, all tailored to parents.  Is this book for the pure beginner on Facebook or for someone who has had some experience already?

 This book is written in a way that someone that has never been on Facebook will benefit and learn as well as someone that has been an active user for a long period of time.  We purposely wrote the book to be read according to the reader’s interest.  It does not need to be read cover to cover.  The reader can read just a few chapters or all of them.  They do not even have to be read in order.

You are both fans and critics of Facebook, what would you say is the best and the worst things about Facebook?

The best thing about Facebook is that it is a great parenting tool and family strengthening tool.  As a parenting tool it allows you to be more aware of your children’s thoughts and feelings.  It gives you as a parent a window into their lives that  you may not have access to any other way.  Kids sometimes have a hard time expressing their feelings verbally.  They are still developing that skill, but on Facebook they are very comfortable expressing their inner thoughts and feelings in written form.  That can be both good and bad. 

If a parent is willing to become knowledgeable on how to use Facebook, this can assist him in meeting the needs of his child that may not be obvious otherwise. Facebook has the ability to strengthen family relationships by providing more opportunities to communicate and be vicariously involved in each other’s lives.

The worst thing about Facebook is the fact that personal privacy can be compromised, especially if you or your child are not familiar with how to lock down the privacy settings.  This is a huge risk factor!  Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, your privacy can be compromised by what other people post about you.  It is critical that every user know how to use the privacy settings as well as use good judgment in what they post.  I continually teach both parents and kids alike to regard Facebook as a public space where anyone can observe what is going on, much like your front lawn.

What do you say to parents who worry that their children would encounter cyber bullying or identity theft or even, addictive behavior if they joined Facebook?

I have not seen identity theft be much of a problem with Facebook although it is a risk.  To minimize this risk, parents and kids need to avoid putting too much personal information on their page.  This would include address, city that they live in, phone number, school that they go to, birthday, etc.  Basically avoid putting as much personal information as possible on your page or make it private. 

Cyberbullying is becoming a concern with not only Facebook, but with texting and emails as well.  This is where the parent needs to teach their child to let them know when this is occurring.  The parent needs to take immediate action to stop any cyber bullying before it gets out of hand.  It is viral and escalates very rapidly.  By being a friend with their child on Facebook, a parent can often recognize the initial signs of cyberbullying and put a quick stop to it.  Some kids get caught up in the bullying process without even being aware that they are contributing.  Parents need to remind their kids of the old adage that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  This applies to texts , emails, wall post and comments.

Facebook addiction is a risk to not only kids but adults as well.   It is very easy to get consumed.  Setting limits and boundaries and sticking to them is the best defense in this case.

What if your kid won’t “friend” you?

This question is so commonly asked that it surprises me! In my house, not friending me is not an option, especially if my children want to eat.  I understand that this is not the policy of every family.  The advice that I give  parents that have children that won’t friend them is to not worry about it.  The parent needs to go ahead and establish an account and become familiar with Facebook.  They need to build their own network of friends and interact with them.  In most cases, once the child feels comfortable that the parent will not embarrass him in front of his Facebook friends and knows what he is doing, then the child will be comfortable in friending the parent.

It seems like Facebook is changing constantly, how do you recommend parents stay “Facebook hip”?

Facebook IS constantly changing.  That is just the nature of the beast.  It will continue to change and evolve.  Here are the best ways to stay “Facebook hip:

1.  use it on a regular basis

2.  follow @fb4parents on Twitter

3.  sign up for our newsletter on facebookforparents.org

4.  read the facebook blog

5.  use google alerts to notify you of updates and news on Facebook

Plus, we outline other resources available in our book. 

We are giving away a free copy of Linda and BJ’s book Facebook for Parents. To enter, leave a comment or question for Linda or share your thoughts about Facebook.

General contest rules: To enter, you must be a U. S.  resident, and at least 18 years of age and you must leave a comment or question on today’s post. No purchase necessary. The winner will be randomly selected and will win a copy of Facebook for Parents.  Employees, contractors, and the families of employees and contractors of Daily Grommet, Inc. are not eligible to enter. You are not eligible to win if you have received a prize or giveaway from Daily Grommet in the last six months. Void where prohibited. Contest will run from 9:00 am PST September 14, 2010 to 10 pm PST September 15, 2010.


  • Johanna Says:

    At what age should or do you think kids can create a fb account or just look around

    sultansmom at gmail dot com

  • Tori Says:

    Thank you to Linda for offering to take parents' questions today. As Sara pointed out, it is best to educate yourself first in order to help your children make the best choices in regard to using Facebook. Thank you for being such an approachable resource for us.

  • Tam Says:

    FB is hard enough for me to navigate and secure my own account, much less those of my kids... It just doesn't seem like a good idea to allow our children to have an account before we have all, as a family, been educated on the ins and outs of it (and I definitely disagree with parents allowing children to set up an account prior to turning 13 since this is FB's policy).

  • Joni Handley Says:

    I have a suggestion for parents whose kids won't friend them - make it a condition of having their own FB account. Also, ask other family members to friend them. If enough people are keeping an eye on their FB pages, someone is bound to notice if there are any problems.

  • Linda Fogg Phillips Says:

    Johanna - Facebook policy is that no child under the age of 13 should have an account and I support that policy. Yes, there are many children who create accounts and lie about their ages. I think it depends on the maturity of the child. When you have a child that asks you for permission to create an account rather than sneaking behind your back to do it, it shows a certain level of maturity =)

    Tori - I am always more than happy to help parents better understand Facebook and other ways to connect with their children. I love to see that there are so many parents out there taking an active role in the lives of their children.

    Tam - One thing that you could do is set up your child's account together. Decide together what information to share and what to leave blank. Just because there's a blank there doesn't mean you have to fill it in =) And setting up the account together will help you have a hand in how the privacy settings are done. For any personal account, I recommend the "Friends Only" setting.

    Joni - I have the "Linda" rule. You see, my kids like to eat. And I'm a pretty good cook =) So the rule at my house is that if you would like to have dinner then you're going to be my friend on Facebook. Most children aren't afraid of being friends with their parents, they're afraid of being embarrassed by their parents! Set up ground rules with your kids. I have one daughter that is me "Friend" but has asked that I do not post or comment on her page,

    If you are unsure of how to use any part of Facebook, I recommend the Help Center. When logged in to your account, look at the top right corner of your screen where it says "Account." Click on that and then select "Help Center" out of the drop down menu. The staff at Facebook has taken the time to create step by step instructions for most of the features of the site and there are answers to many of the most frequently asked questions. And, as always, feel free to email me at any time.

  • Sarah Says:

    I have a teen daughter on Facebook, this looks like an excellent resource to read.

  • Sara Says:

    I feel so much more comfortable allowing my 13 year old on FB now that I have read this book. It really did answer my most important questions I had as a parent about my child's use of FB. Because the authors run classes at Stanford on Facebook for Parents, they have researched pretty extensively what parents want and need to know about the ins and outs of Facebook for their children. The book offers specific advice on setting up accounts, and suggested guidelines and restrictions on how the children should use their accounts.

  • Laurie Says:

    I teach 7th graders internet safety. My students come alive when we begin talking about social networking sites.ie Facebook. I think this book will also be helpful to educators who need to learn more about facebook. I also plan to recommend yout book and site to parents.

  • Karen Says:

    Your advice is excellent. I run www.doink.com a creative website that provides free drawing & animation tools in a community setting, much like Facebook. Our website is for users, aged 13+ so the majority of our artists are teens. This is the "C" generation that wants & needs to "create, connect & collaborate." It is the 24/7 world they live in and is why Facebook, YouTube, Doink, etc are popular. I agree with the author that parents can use Facebook (& other sites) as "great parenting and family strengthening tools". It truly is amazing what you can learn about "your children’s thoughts and feelings" by looking at what they create, how they express themselves, their comments, etc. These "social" skills are key to their success in the future & never too early to help to learn.

  • Sarah Says:

    We stood fast on our dd being 13 before having Facebook even though many of her friends already had accounts. IMO if you can't say no to them on something like Facebook, how do you say no to the bigger things? We also have some of her friends on our accounts, it gives us insight into who her friends are when we don't have as much contact with them as we used to. And she has family and friends of ours added. One of the conditions of her having Facebook is we need to know her password.

    We also have a 5 yr old and 10 yr old. The 5 y old will often ask me to "Facebook" a picture or message to someone, instead of saying email...you know the old fashioned way of sharing electronically.

  • Sara Says:

    Before I read this book, I thought Facebook could be just a fad. But now I am convinced that Facebook and social networking are part of our culture, especially our children's culture. We recently had a tragedy in our town and nearly every teenager in the town was glued to Facebook to connect and support each other, on a large scale. It was pretty amazing. They seemed to get a lot of support just checking in on Facebook, reading people's comments, sharing stories, virtually being there for each other. There are definitely downsides to Facebook that need to be monitored by parents, and so becoming savvy about Facebook, the pros and the cons is really important to me. I am grateful to Linda and BJ for writing this book in a such thoughtful , well-researched and pro-active way.

  • Jonnie Hammon Says:

    I found this very interesting. My 4 oldest grandchildren are on FB. I know their parents worry about it and try to limit them, and keep track of their activity, on FB, and the net in general. I think this could aid them now, and the parents of the 2 youngest ones, when they reach the age, that they could join.

  • Ann Says:

    This would be a valuable book to have on hand - not just for Facebook users, but for anyone who visits a social networking website like MySpace, YouTube, or Twitter. I'd definitely invest in it!

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