Chances are, if you have teenagers at your house, you’re friends with them on Facebook. The numbers are pretty amazing: 80% of US parents of teens use social network sites; of them 95% are in Facebook; and of those FB-using parents, 86% have friended their kids, according to a recent study. Friending can be very helpful – a casual way of keeping an eye on things (if we don’t blow it and comment on our kids’ wall posts and photos!). In fact, parent and Norton Internet safety advocate Marian Merritt recommends friending our kids. But if you encourage them to use the privacy settings and manage their reputation, they may, not too surprisingly, use those privacy settings on you, Marian writes in a blog post: “You may find, as I did, that your child has used the very privacy settings you showed them to prevent you from seeing their posts. They can do that with individual posts and share them with just a few people or one person. They can also set up their posts by default to exclude you.” So if you notice that your kids’ Facebook activity suddenly got really “quiet,” you may want to talk with them about not applying the settings to block you out. Marian let hers know there would be consequences if they did. She suggests that parents “be alert for this sort of a change. It doesn’t mean your child is bad. To them, it’s probably the online equivalent of texting their friend instead of using the phone so the conversation stays private.” And they just may have earned that privacy. I think we need to remember that friending our kids on Facebook affords us unprecedented exposure to their everyday interactions with friends, and we need to treat that as a privilege we mustn’t abuse. How could I possibly say that? Besides the fact that it’s their job to grow up and gradually distance themselves from us, that access is so tenuous. It’s all too easy for them to shut down the access points and go digitally underground. [See also "Virtual helicopter parenting."]
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