I asked my 16-year-old son for his Facebook login credentials this week so I could review his privacy settings (it’s a new account, but yes, parents, you should do this on your own, or with your child). Additionally, Facebook’s privacy settings change often so it is a good idea to revisit this from time to time. While doing the review, I was reminded that a couple of elements of Facebook’s policies are actually very kid and parent-friendly, so I thought I’d include them at the end of this parents’ guide to Facebook privacy settings.
First, here’s how to do the review.
After you’ve logged into his account, the first thing you should do is check his profile info to make sure he listed the correct age at sign up (Edit Profile -> Update Info -> Basic Information). If your child first signed up for Facebook when he was under 13, he might have listed a false birth date to get around the age restrictions. Depending on your view, that may be bad in and of itself, but it has an added safety implication – Facebook offers extra privacy protections for minors, but those do not apply if a false age greater than 18 is listed.
Next, you can access the privacy settings two ways:
On a cell phone, from the bottom menu bar, click on More -> User Name -> More (…) -> View Privacy Shortcuts.
From a computer, click the Lock Icon in the upper right hand corner to view to Privacy Shortcuts.
Privacy Settings and Tools
To get a more comprehensive view, from a computer click on the down arrow in the upper right hand corner, (next to the Lock Icon) -> click on Settings -> Privacy and you will see the screen pictured below.
As you can see, the privacy settings are grouped into three categories – who can see your child’s stuff, who can contact him and who can search for him.
Obviously, for the under-18 crowd, we recommend that only friends be allowed to see your child’s content.
In terms of “who can contact me”, you might want to select “everyone”, but setting it to “friends of friends” offers and extra line of defense against strangers.
The third category is trickier. Allowing “everyone” to find your child using his email address or phone number is only a risk if strangers already know his email or phone number, but since your don’t know who does, it’s best to set those to “friends”. As for the last element, whether search engines index and display your child’s Facebook account, this is one of the areas in which Facebook has done the right thing. By default, users under the age of 18 are not searchable by Google or Bing. If your child accurately listed his age at sign up, he is blocked from search. I tried to manually change the setting and the only option is “Enable when I turn 18”. Well done, Facebook!
Next, I tried to change his age to 24, just to see if it is possible, and got the message below.
I went ahead and tried to change his age, but was forced to send an email to Facebook requesting the change and received a warning message that accounts listing false information could be terminated. Facebook does not take these changes lightly.
Last, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Facebook does a good job protecting child location information. By default, location sharing is turned off for minors, and each time they attempt to post their location, they are shown a reminder that this information may be displayed publicly, or at least to friends and friends of friends.
Yes, parents, Facebook privacy settings are complicated, but it’s well worth a few minutes of your time to review options with your child to ensure that your young Facebook users stay safe.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.