Friday, February 20, 2009

Sue Scheff: Parenting, Teens and Facebook

Today more and more teens are joining Facebook as well as the other Social Network - however Facebook seems to be growing. Why? I honestly don’t know, but I do know parents are enjoying Facebook as much as many kids are. Recently I stumbled over an article on Tangerine Times written by a parent helping us navigate our way through the Social Cyberspace. This topic is critical - as keeping your child’s privacy is important for many reasons. Help your kids stay safe with Social Networking - read this valuable article.

How to Help Your Teen Use Privacy Settings on Facebook

Many parents tell me they are frustrated with their teens’ use of Facebook. Here are some of the comments I hear frequently from parents:

“They know more than I do about how to use it and set it up, so how can I control it?”

“My kids are using it when I am not around, so how can I possibly know what they are doing, who they are talking to and if they are being safe with their information?”

“I feel this has gotten out of control, and I don’t really know what to do to get it back under control”

“I am afraid there are predators.”

“I give up. I just hope they aren’t doing anything stupid because I haven’t a clue what they are doing online.”

What I see are parents who over control (they deny their kids use of Facebook entirely) or parents who are completely “hands off”. And some of these are parents who normally wouldn’t dream of sending their child into an unknown situation without a little research. Crazy huh? I’ve decided to begin a campaign to de-mystify Facebook for those parents who feel they are not comfortable enough to set boundaries for their teens. It’s not rocket science but I completely understand their frustration in trying to understand it all.

Here are some tips about privacy settings on Facebook. It is never too late to ask your teenager about their privacy settings, even if they have had their account for years.

Friend Lists

(this is configured by visiting the “Friends area” of Facebook)

you can set up different friend lists based on interests; in the case of teens, maybe they shouldn’t have their friends from their high school in the same friends list with the kids they went to summer camp with 5 years ago OR if they “friend” someone outside of their school. Remember:
you can add each friend to more than one friend group

“Friend Lists” can have specific privacy policies applied to them (this is critical if your child is having a “problem” with one friend but doesn’t want to “un-friend them”

Watch out for Friends’ News Feeds

Most teens use the relationship box but it can be hazardous. A news feed goes out (to all their “friends”) as soon as they change their relationship status. Some teenagers even find out they are bringing “broken up with” because they get a news feed their boyfriend/girlfriend is now “single”. ouch. IF your and your teen decide to keep this particular information private, all they have to do is uncheck the box next to “Remove Relationship Status in the “News Feed and Wall Privacy” page.

Those Goofy Applications

Facebook is known for their fun quizzes and applications. Right now, the hottest app is the “25 Random Things About Me”. People love taking these little quizzes and passing them along to their “friends”. But, keep in mind there are some applications that have an age requirement/limit to them and by simply participating, your teen is sending out a signal that they are over 18 (for instance). Also, applications send out their own news feed.

For instance, “Sarah just took the Sexual Compatibility Test!” gets sent to your “friends” after you’ve taken one of the little “quizzes.” Many publish these without you knowing it. There are two suggestions you can give your teen; don’t visit the applications often (and be careful which ones you do) and review your profile after you’ve participated in a new quiz or fun “something”.
Your teen can customize their wall postings’ visibility. They can also control which friends can post on their wall. Here are the two places do that:

Go to “Profile page”
Click on the “Settings” icon on the wall
Find the box that says, “Who can see this?” and select who you want to view the wall posts
Another way is….
to control which friends can post on your teen’s wall (this is particularly useful if someone is getting a little “nasty” and starting a words war)

visit “Profile Privacy Settings”page
go to the section labeled “Wall Posts”
your teen can disable a specific friends ability to post on their wall and you can select specific friends who can post on their wall.

Remove them from Facebook Search Results

By default, Facebook makes your teens’ presence visible to the network they are in. For instance, in my area, the default group is the SF network. Most teenagers belong to at least their school’s network which (I believe) is the most important group for a teen to belong to. It is their primary means of sharing with each other, debrief the day and communicate about upcoming events. Obviously, there are many other “networks” and groups to belong to. It should be up to you and your child how many and which ones to belong to. As you add groups, the exposure is widened. For good or ill.

Visit “search privacy settings” page

Under “Search Visibility” select “Only Friends” (doing so, will remove your teen from Facebook search results, so make sure they (you) want them removed totally.

Otherwise….you can select another group, such as “My Network and Friends” which (I think) is the default

Click “Save Changes”

Remove them from Google Search

Did you know that Facebook gets lots of traffic from displaying user profiles in search engines. It benefits Facebook. Not necessarily a teenager. Not all of one’s profile is displayed. Currently the information displayed is limited to:

the profile picture
your friends list
a link to add as a friend
a link to send you a mesage
a list of up to 20 fan pages that you are a member of

For plenty of people, being displayed in the search engines is a great way to let people get in contact with you (or discover you). I use it for just this reason to market my blog especially since Facebook tends to rank high in the search results but not everyone wants their information to be public (and I’m plenty careful about what is public on mine)

By visiting “Search Privacy Settings Page” (same as above); you can control the visiblility of your teen’s public search listing which is visible to Google and other search engines. You can turn off the public search listing by simply un-checking the box next to the phraes “Create a public search listing for me and submit it for search engine indexing”. By the way, this option only shows up if you’ve selected “Everyone” under “Search Visibility”.

Avoid Embarrassing Photo/Video Tagging Mistakes

This is one of the most difficult (and common) problems that teens have with Facebook. Sometimes it’s not even the poor judgment of the teen that gets them into trouble but the poor judgment of a “friend” who posts an ill-gotten, poorly timed photo or dis-tasteful video and then tags your unfortunate teenager.

How do you help your teen avoid this form of potential embarrassment?

Visit the page called, “profile privacy” and modify the setting next to “Photos Tagged of You”

Select the option which says “Customize…” and a box while pop up

Select the option “Only Me” and then…

“None of my Networks” if you would like to keep everything (all photos/videos) private.
If you’d like to make tagged photos visible to certain users, choose to add them in the box under “Some Friends”

In the box that displays after you select “Some Friends” you can type either individual friends or a friends list

Photos Privacy Page

Many times people will go to the effort of turning off their tagged photo visibility to certain friends but yet “forget” about their photo albums. If you are trying to make all your photos invisible you have to do so with each album as well.

There is a specific “Photos Privacy Page” where you can manually configure the visibility of each album. This setting is extremely useful and I highly recommend you take the time to show your teen how to use it and encourage them TO use it. It may take some time initially to set up, but in the long run, only the people you truly want to view your photos, can see them.

Contact Information

Last by not least, make sure your teen has not listed your home phone number under contact info OR home address. In fact, this is probably the one area that I think parents should have the MOST say in. After all, your teen’s phone number, address, age, school etc are all pieces of information that are negotiable!

That’s my 2 cents. Hopefully some of you will find this helpful. I’ll continue to update and add information as parent/readers write in with other questions.