Parents: Be a Facebook friend but don’t act like it

Schools, parents should be tapping in to social media
February 5, 2014
‘Love Your Heart’ event aimed at raising awareness
February 5, 2014
Schools, parents should be tapping in to social media
February 5, 2014
‘Love Your Heart’ event aimed at raising awareness
February 5, 2014

Parents and grandparents have become increasingly adept at using social networking sites like Facebook, and communications experts say that’s a good thing from a parenting perspective.

Knowing what’s going on with your child on Facebook, particularly in the volatile teen years, can give parents a better clue to what’s actually happening with them. But as with other communications settings, ranging from parties to telephone calls, there are potential pitfalls that parents should be aware of in order to keep a simple matter of online messages from damaging relationships and trust.

The first thing parents not versed in social networking need to know is that it’s similar in many ways to encounters they are already familiar with.

Such an understanding – that we speak to everyone at one time – is part of what Boston psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair says we need to be familiar enough with social media to explain to children, if we allow them to participate in social networking. Permission to Facebook once a child is old enough – and if the parent wishes to allow it – comes with responsibilities. Parents, she said, need to clearly tell youngsters the impact their social networking posts can have on themselves and on others.

The looming question is how parents – if they allow social networking on their childrens’ phones or laptops – should be involved.

As with diaries and sleepover conversations there is a line between proper parenting and spying.

Some information on how children are getting along can be gleaned from Facebook pages whether the parent is a Facebook “friend” – meaning someone who can easily communicate with the child and see all or most of what they post – or not.

So should you “friend” your child?

Not necessarily, says Steiner-Adair. But yes, it is perfectly appropriate for you to have your child’s password.

If you do, or if you do some net checks to see what your child is putting out for the world to see, it is recommended that you do so responsibly and with restraint.

Parents, experts say, have been needlessly stressed and sometimes taken embarrassing steps after reading something that appears disturbing only to later learn that the child was re-posting song lyrics, and innocuously at that.

So the first thing to do is not panic.

“You do want to create a situation not where you are friends making posts and commenting on their posts,” Steiner-Adair said, noting that any private conversations you may have with your child about posts you see should be conducted “in a calm way, not in an edgy, policing, suspicious tone.”

If your child does offer to friend you, certainly accept.

“Of course,” said Steiner-Adair. “Be a friend but do not act like a friend.”

Her book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” is available in print and also a Kindle edition, and provides detailed information for parenting in an information age.

Houma media consultant Charles Gainnie said monitoring social networks children are on is not unlike performing tasks parents already take for granted, like knowing who kids’ friends are and being aware of where they go. And parents new to social networking should not be intimidated by it.

“It’s not about the vehicle it’s about the message,” said Gainnie. “If you are social in person you are social online. You are just exposed to people who may not be physically present to you. At a party or a meeting we are limited in conversation to the people standing in front of us. Social media allows us to speak to all of the people who are in the room at the same time.”