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.