Author’s note: we don’t recommend that kids under 13 use Facebook. In fact, many teenagers over 13 probably shouldn’t be on Facebook unsupervised either. That being said…
Let say you’ve never had a problem with online activity with your tween, and she is very mature for her age (you think). Now, at the tender age of 11, she desperately wants to have a Facebook account. All her friends have one, which is never reason enough to do something in the parenting realm, and you know the “official” age limit is 13, but you’re inclined to agree. Is there a way to do it safely?
Don’t dismiss the idea out of hand. Kids are joining Facebook at earlier ages, whether their parents know about it or not:
- 5 million U.S. Facebook users are under 13
- 85% of Irish kids aged 9 – 12 use Facebook
- 52% of UK kids aged 8 – 16 admit they have ignored Facebook’s official age limit
Follow this blueprint for Facebook settings and activity to keep her as safe as possible:
- Set her account to “private” and see that it stays that way.
- Add her as a “friend” on your Facebook account. (Note: she may want to unfriend you at some point. That decision will be up to you.)
- Have an in-depth discussion about what is appropriate to post, and which friend requests to accept.
- Ensure that she does not post personally identifying information, including address, phone number or too many photos.
- She should not post photos of her friends without their permission.
- She shouldn’t post negative comments about other people, ever.
- She shouldn’t “check in”, or do anything else to reveal her exact location. You should also turn off the GPS settings on the phone’s camera.
- She should only post things that make her look like a fine, upstanding young lady.
Next, go to the Privacy Settings page on her account (Click on the Lock Icon at the upper right, then click “See More Settings”), pictured at right. For every section where “Friends” is an option, choose that. Don’t choose “friends of friends”, “public” or “everyone”.
If you’ve followed the list above, you’re in good shape. You’ve made all the right moves, except for maybe one thing.
You should look from time to time and see how many Facebook friends she has. If it’s a large number, or increases quickly over a short period of time, some aspects of her online activity may require your attention.
The Facebook Friend Collector
In real life, the definition of the word “friend” is pretty straightforward. You know your child’s friends when you see them, literally. In real life, unless there’s a serious problem, kids are encouraged to interact with their friends. In the age of social media, the online definition of friend is not so clear.
By a large number of friends, we mean any number that is much greater than the number of real world friends she has. According to Pew Internet Research, the median teen Facebook user has too many Facebook friends – 300 on average, and 20% have more than 600. That could be a problem.
Why is it a problem? Let’s say your daughter is a Facebook Friend Collector, and is in the 600+ friends category. Since there is no way she knows all of those 600 people in real life, you might want to ask her why she has so many online “friends”. If she and her friends are treating their online life as if it’s a popularity contest, they may be doing other things that aren’t altogether safe or healthy.
Popularity is a common goal for teens, but until now, hasn’t really been quantifiable. Now with the help by social networks it can become a game, and an area of too much focus. Without any other red flags there may be no issue, but be aware that she may be doing other riskier things online to gain popularity.
There is a safety issue that comes with having too many friends as well. A network of 600 people is absolutely not private, as her “friends” are the ones who have access to her personal information, posts, photos and who can privately message her. Even if you are Facebook friends with her, you don’t know what she is sending/receiving via private message. If she is being cyberbullied on a private Facebook account, the bully will be one of those “friends”.
Facebook would like to think that is has changed the definition of “friend”, but they haven’t. The closer your teen’s friend group online resembles her friends and family in real life, the safer she will be.
Again, we don’t recommend ignoring Facebook’s official age limit, but if you do with your tween, take steps to make sure she stays as safe as possible.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.