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I would not generally read my child’s diary or emails. I have never activated the tracker on their cell phones to spy on them. My children’s rooms are their own domain to arrange as they choose (but are still responsible to keep them tidy). We allow our teens a good deal of freedom.  However, I do not allow them to have a Facebook profile without friending me, and let me tell you why.

First, we don’t want to give our kids the delusion that Facebook is private space. Things posted on Facebook (and elsewhere online) are quite public, and that is how it must be treated. If your child thinks they can say something to their 300 closest friends behind your back, they are mistaken. Think of a room with that many people. When posting on Facebook, you are in effect shouting out your information to that whole room.

Second, Facebook is permanent. Nothing posted online really gets deleted. Rather, it gets scanned, cataloged, and filed for future reference. Whole business empires are built on cataloging information, and often tracking information about individuals for marketing purposes. That fact is not some paranoid conspiracy, but a matter of life online. Employers will look up your Facebook pages and twitter feeds, and maybe even run a background check just to find out what you’re really like. Do you really want those unfortunate pictures and angry remarks on your resume?

Third, children need to understand their behavior online cannot be different from what it is in ‘real life.’ The Internet might feel like an anonymous place, but the words and actions are by real people, with real world consequences. If you’re a bully, or a cheater, or a sexist, or a liar online, you’re that in real life too. Or if you’re patient, kind, encouraging, or forgiving online, you’re that in real life too.

 Fourth, as parents it is our calling to know what is going on with our kids. Teenagers are beginning to understand the various facts of life, but still need parental guidance, even when they think they don’t. So parents need to know what children are choosing to share. I personally have called other parents (on more than one occasion) to share my concern about their child’s words on Facebook. Parents need to know if their child is sounding depressed or suicidal, or talking about doing something amazingly stupid, or just cursing the air blue. As part of this big family we hold each other accountable to represent Christ in our actions.

Fifth, Facebook is a way to share your child’s interests. It gives you a window into their hearts. You can see when your child is excited about an upcoming event or irritated about a test. It gives you points of reference when you spend time together. You can laugh about some silly video or share in the discussion of who would really win in a battle: Jedi or ninjas?

Still, there’s no need to smother your children publicly. Wise parents will observe some boundaries. Here's some tips for parents: 

  • Don't respond to everything. Don’t be too quick to comment or like--you don’t need to be their most active friend. Choose your interactions wisely, and use these points of learning for conversation later. They will shy away from sharing if their parents dominate every conversation.
  • Don’t dismiss their interests. You might be surprised at what they like, who they friend, and what they post about. Some of it might be serious, some might be silly or trivial or trendy beyond your understanding. You might have to Google some topics just to understand the jokes. But it matters to them, so respect their interests. If something is concerning, privately ask what it means to them.
  • Don’t let Facebook replace actual interaction. You may gather a very different assessment in conversation than you would from only reading their Facebook wall.  And the wall will never tell you everything that is happening--we tend to share only what we want others to see about us. We don’t often share our deepest struggles. You will only discover those things only when you tune in to your child in person.
  • If you have a concern, take respectful action. Ask about what that particular post meant to them. Help them see the ramifications. If discipline is warranted and a conversation does not resolve the challenge, then remove the privilege.  Internet access is not a right, but a privilege to be removed if abused. Keep phones and computers in a public part of the home.

Remember that a key task of a teenager is growing into an independent adult. They’re learning to live life without your constant supervision. Together, you need to negotiate shifting boundaries. In posting online, they have gifted you with a glimpse of their world, and if you want to see more of their life, treat their choices with respect, even while giving needed parental guidance.  Show the same love and respect online that we have for them in person.

 

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