6 experts and 3 parents have answered
It's strange to read some of the answers here knowing that I am on opposite end of the spectrum. I reckon if I can share a little insight to my own experiences, you might pick something up from it.
I turned 18 a few months ago and I'm not embarrassed to admit that I do have my mum listed as a friend on Facebook! My experiences on Facebook with my mum started when I was 16, maybe you'd have hoped to hear about our experiences from a younger age but my parents aren't exactly tech savvy, but I can tell you a bit about how I learned to use the internet in a safe manner.
I was brought up in a way where I was always told not to talk to strangers outside and the same goes on the Internet. My parents often worried about who I communicated with online and rightly so. I should have only instant messaged with friends I knew in real life and use websites we learned about in school. I did just that, I compared the Internet to the great outdoors and didn't go anywhere online I didn't know about or thought to be unsafe. I made use of a service called SuperClubsPLUS. At the time it was similar to Facebook and other social networks, I could communicate with friends from school, learn about the Internet and learn about subjects from school too. It was (and still is) a protected online community run by professionals.
As I grew older I began to discover the likes of Bebo and Facebook. I took the knowledge I'd learned from my parents, and SuperClubsPlus and applied it to the real World Wide Web. I was no longer protected by professionals or able to talk to just my friends and other children who used the service, I was able to converse with anyone who could find me and I admit that it was a scary thought, one I can only guess would have worried my parents even more. It didn't stop me from being sensible, but I did become more secretive from my parents in a way and didn't like telling them what I was doing online. I was never up to any mischief but I suppose it derived a little from the whole "I'm a teenager, parents aren't cool" thing that most teens these days go through. My parents asked me to show them what I was doing on the Internet. After some bickering about privacy, being a teenager and all the usual nonsense I showed them my Bebo account and explained that I only used it to talk to people I know, share photos and music I liked. They viewed my friend list and would panic if they saw a name they didn't recognise, in my case it was always somebody from school or a friend of a friend.
I got a Facebook friendship request one evening, upon noticing it was my mum I declined and deleted the request without any further thought. This led to a brief argument about me feeling like my privacy was being invaded and a bit of warning or a conversation beforehand wouldn't have gone a miss. Some months later, I again had a request from my mum. I done nothing about it and let it stay there for a few weeks neither accepted nor declined. I gave it a bit of thought and realised that I had no good reason to decline, I also spoke with my mum and agreed that I shouldn't be embarrassed and all that because Facebook is a bit more public than being out with a few friends so I accepted it. To start with I made use of some privacy settings so that I could hide certain posts from her like rude jokes that I'd gladly share with all my friends, but just not my mum... I'm a teenage boy, we do silly things like that!
Over time I realised that I had nothing to hide and removed any existing privacy settings that stopped my mum from seeing things. We have a relationship where I tell her most things now anyway, but I also learned that I could trust my mum with aspects of my personal life, and she wouldn't embarrass me but also trusted me to use the Internet safely.
My advise to parents would be don't pester your teenagers! Show them that you trust them to an extent, even just a little like you would do if they were hanging out with friends. DO NOT attempt to snoop on them but instead bond with them and try to form a relationship where they are open with you to an extend - it's better than not being open at all, right?! I believe that if you try to snoop on your kids and they find out, they'll only become more protective over what they do and push you away.
If your kids are a bit younger, make clear the does and don'ts of surfing the web and make sure they use safe websites designed for kids and that they always tell you what they're doing online. Spend time with them online to see what they do and how they do it.
The ultimate question is "Should you friend your teen on facebook?" - Like Wendy McAuliffe says in another answer, Are you friends with your teen?
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If your relationship with your teen is good enough for him or her to agree to accepting you as a friend on FB, then you're off to a good start. If you have to force her to let you friend her, you're already in trouble! It might be best to do a deal... Explain that for her protection, up to an age you both agree on (how about the legal age of consent, 16?), you will friend her, but you promise to NEVER embarrass her by posting anything or making a comment on her page and you wont harass her by sending private messages. You'll just lurk and make yourself invisible and look out for her. Then if you feel there's anything you need to talk about, do it face to face in person, not in the FB arena.
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I fully intend to. I'm saying that from the optimistic point of view of being mum to an 11-year-old girl who is still very close to me, but is not yet on Facebook. When she turns 13, I suspect (with sadness) that our relationship will have changed somewhat.
Right now she WANTS to join Facebook so that she can be friends with me and my husband. She's not yet at the point of thinking parents suck and we're old and stupid. I worry that change of opinion will coincide with her coming of Facebook age, but I will still friend her and also sit with her to talk through the privacy settings, set them together and keep a gentle eye on her activity.
I won't be able to see her Facebook chats, or some of the posts she makes on other people's walls, even if I'm friends with her. So I need to try to equip her with the skills to use it safely regardless of whether I'm watching or not. Just like real life, I guess.
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Regardless of what your teen thinks (and they’ll probably find it as embarrassing as you kissing them goodbye at the school gates) it’s probably a good idea, if you want to make sure they’re not getting up to anything untoward.
When your child hits the tricky age of 13 (the youngest you can rightfully open a Facebook account) you’ll find yourself straddling that fine line between trusting your child and granting them independence – and protecting them is even tougher in the hyperconnected age. But it’s possible to be Facebook friends and keep this balance in check.
As a friend of mine says: ‘I’m friends with my 14-year-old daughter as it helps me keep her safe. I don’t check up on her and let her be. I just know that I can if I want to and she knows she has the safety of me being there if needed.’
Experts reckon it’s a good idea to start off by letting kids hang out in safe, social online places designed for them, like Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters, where there are strong privacy controls. When the time comes to setting up their Facebook account, make sure they ask your permission first and then sit with them while they do it.
Then it comes to the all important question: do you ‘friend’ them? It needs to be an open discussion that you have with your child – rather than awkwardly springing it on them – explaining you’re reasons behind it, while reassuring them that you won’t snoop on their conversation. But if they resist, do you make it non-negotiable? Ultimately every parent has different comfort levels. Are you ‘friends’ with your teen?
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I think you should always be your kids friend on Facebook - that way your children will know that A. You're their friend B. That you care C. That you can watch their activity, so they should be wise with what they post. I personally think it helps.
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As a digital marketing professor who specializes in Social Media Marketing and a Mom of a 16 year old, I have set very specific guidelines for my daughter on Facebook. Remember this isn't just about "safety", it is also about understanding what Facebook is doing with your data and information, and what organizations including high schools, colleges and potential employers do with the information.
A 13 year old is not yet fully aware of all of the implications of what they post and who can see what they post and schools here in the US are NOT teaching this. Setting a strong foundation right out of the gate is a great way to create open conversation and transparency in a digital age where content sharing is so easy that we don't even think about it.
By being friends with my daughter on Facebook when she was 13 we were able to set ground rules for both of us -- what is ok for her to share, what is ok for me to share. It provided us with the opportunity to post information, share content, and stay connected as well. As she has gotten older, I am still her friend on Facebook. I provide her with advice and information when Facebook changes (like their upcoming changes to the Newsfeed) because I actually teach college students how to use Facebook as marketing professionals. I also advise her on privacy settings.
Essentially if you monitor and supervise your children when they are home playing with other children, why wouldn't you monitor and supervise your children on a social tool such as Facebook? If you ask them about their day at school, or how things are with their friends, why wouldn't you just incorporate Facebook and other social tools into that conversation?
Technology is no longer a separate "thing" to be dealt with in a different way. Each family needs to decide for themselves how they will incorporate technology conversations into their lives -- being present to help our kid learn how to navigate these tools is becoming a very important part of being a parent.
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Defintely yes. I feel it's part of my job as a parent to keep them safe online, especially when they are just starting out on social media.
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I will definitely be friends with my kids when they are old enough for facebook...but I'll put more energy into being there for them in REAL life.
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Allowing our children to have their privacy and space is an important point, however considering the public online space they post in, that argument does not count as much. I suggest telling your children that you won't activly engage with them online, but that you just want to be there, to monitor their safety. For another perspective, here's a good read: