Over the last few weeks, news hit the Internet that Facebook is looking at ways to allow kids under 13 to use Facebook under parental supervision. For quite some time now, Facebook has required all registered users to be over 13 years old. Because of this limitation, there are now many children on Facebook that have lied about their age during the signup process – with their parents blessing.
Since there are already so many users on Facebook that are under 13, Facebook’s new offering may link to the parent’s account, and provide the parent with better tools and resources to keep their children safe while they use the largest social network in the world.
Until those rules are hammered out, if you have younger kids on Facebook right now then you may already be concerned whether or not you’re doing enough to protect them while they publish their private information and thoughts on the Internet. As a good parent, it’s so important to strike a balance between trust and safety. You can see debates on that gray line on our articles about child online safety, like my article on monitoring teen computer use, my article on Android phone surveillance apps, or Karl’s article on McGruff Safeguard.
There are special investigation units in almost every police agency in every developed nation of the world that speak at schools and public events about Internet safety tips for kids. On nearly every list is communication between kids and parents about online activities. Fortunately, Facebook is so popular that it offers parents a great launching pad to teach their kids about responsible use of social networks.
Teaching Your Kids About Social Network Safety
Facebook privacy and security settings can be complicated even for parents. So, it’s really important if you’re going to have your young kids using Facebook that you understand how the privacy settings in Facebook actually work. We’ve done a lot of Facebook privacy articles here at MUO, but if you’re looking at securing your child’s Facebook use so that it isn’t completely open to the public, the following tips will help.
Monitoring Facebook Privacy & Security
Don’t just go into your kid’s account and set these for them. If you’re going to teach your kids to use Facebook responsibly, it’s important to go through these settings with them and make sure why you’re making each change, and what they can do to monitor these settings and make sure their information is non-public.
First, go to their account Privacy Settings page, and at the very top you’ll see the Default Privacy setting. This should be set to “Friends“. This will ensure that whenever your child creates a new post, it defaults to “friends-only” view rather than public view.
Under this section, you’ll see a link to “How You Connect“. This section defines how other people on Facebook can interact with your child. These settings are typically set to “Everyone“. What you want is to set all of these to “Friends of Friends“, so that no one other than the child’s inner circles can see private information like email addresses and phone numbers, or can send your child private messages and friend requests. If you’re really concerned, you can set these to only “Friends“, but then you defeat the entire purpose of a friend request.
If your child has been on Facebook for a while and you are both only now coming up to speed with Facebook privacy settings, you may want to take a look at the “Limit the Audience for Past Posts” setting. The odds are good that your child might have posted comments on their wall with the audience setting set to “Public“. The fastest way to set all of those old posts back to non-public is to click “Limit Old Posts” in this Privacy section.
Finally, under Apps, Games and Websites in your child’s privacy settings, there’s a Public Search section. Click on Edit Settings and deselect the “Enable public search” option. This will ensure that no stranger outside of Facebook will be able to discover your child’s Facebook account doing a public search.
Depending on your arrangement with your child – whether you plan to log directly into their account, or just trust them to handle their online safety on their own – one excellent area to monitor the security of your child’s account is in Account Settings -> Security and then Edit “Active Sessions“.
This is an excellent place to monitor what geographic locations and times that your child’s Facebook account was accessed. Aside from the fact that this will tell you whether your child is using Facebook at 1am in the morning when they should be sleeping, the more important benefit of this information is that you will know right away whether someone at an unknown location is using their account. This will tell you whether or not their account has been compromised and the password needs to be changed.
A simple example of this might be that one of their friends somehow obtained their Facebook password and might be logging into their account without their knowledge. This section will alert you to that activity.
Setting Limits On Facebook Time
There is no getting around it, Facebook is a highly addictive activity for many kids. It’s where so many of their friends are hanging out, so it’s a constant temptation to get online and start posting on their friends’ walls or chatting it up with friends that are online.
This can lead to behavior where your child may start sneaking Facebook “checks” at all hours of the night, using not only your family computer, but maybe other devices that have access to Facebook, like a mobile phone or game console.
One way to limit Facebook time is right on your router. In the example below, I use the most common router, Linksys. Your router may have different menus, but the concept is the same. You want to go to the menu on the router that controls “access restrictions”. In Linksys, it’s very clear how this works. First you need to define what PC’s that you want to apply the access rule to.
Using IP address is simplest, but most often devices change IP address as they connect and disconnect from a local network. If this is the case in your home, you may be better off using the mac address of the device instead. Once you’ve listed the devices your child uses to access Facebook, back on the Access Policy page, you’ll enable the policy, click on “Allow” and then define the times of the day that you want to allow access to Facebook. Add the Facebook URL in the “Website Blocking by URL Address” section, save changes, and you’re done!
I probably wouldn’t start off taking this approach right off the bat. First, provide your child with guidelines and let them know there will be a limit on how much time they can spend on Facebook. If you find that they aren’t using Facebook responsibly, rather than removing them from Facebook entirely, try using the router settings above and see if it curbs the excessive use of Facebook.
Using Social Monitoring Software
If your children are younger and you really don’t have time to log into their Facebook account to keep track of things and make sure they aren’t being contacted by people that shouldn’t be communicating with them, another great solution is something like the Safely Social Monitor.
This kind of service is very fast and easy to set up, and it can give you the piece of mind knowing that you’ll be alerted if anything unusual is going on in your child’s Facebook account. All you have to do is connect your Safely account to your child’s Facebook profile.
Safely will send your child an email with a link to give you permission to monitor their Facebook account.
They’ll need to click the link to accept, and then give the application permissions to access their account information.
Once that’s done, all you have to do is occasionally log into your Safely account to review the current “Safely Report” for your children’s accounts. Safely monitors things like whether the account is connected to the service, the ages of their friends, whether or not they’re using appropriate language, and other factors. If your child gets a score of 100 – they’re a superstar when it comes to using Facebook responsibly.
If you are the type of person that would rather not intrude on the privacy of your child’s Facebook account, then at the very least, walk your children through the safety and privacy settings for their account. Make it clear what the dangers are if those settings are not configured correctly – with personal information being distributed across the larger Internet.
Beyond that, this is also a good time to teach them time management and moderation. Using Facebook can be a really fun way to keep in touch with friends, especially during summer when school is out – but excessive use can be unhealthy and a sign of addiction. And remember – it’s one thing to preach it, but you also need to be a role model for your children as well.
These are just a few tips to help you work with your child as they first start using Facebook. It’s a great time to teach them about online safety. Can you think of any other ideas to teach young kids about using social networks in a safe and responsible way? Share your own thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Online Chatting Via Shutterstock
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