Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Help Your Teens with Stranger Friends On Facebook

A parent emailed me recently asking me to write about this:

"We have a 14 yr old daughter who is not allowed to have facebook until next year. She has been in trouble previously for creating a twitter handle during computer class in 8th grade. Had to speak with principal as our punishment  because she broke school rules and then was grounded from us for breaking our rules.

Now as a freshman, she has created a facebook page and most of her  friends are boys and have been texting two boys from NY and chicago.  I am beside myself and also scared.

What do you suggest to get through to her and make this be okay.  Otherwise super kid, nice friends and very good grades."

Any suggestions or help?
Thanks a lot

I am guessing that this is not an unfamiliar scenario for those of you with teens in those transition years of 6-9th grade. What is a parent to do? First how I wish that facebook was the only social networking site a parent had to deal with. Having a teen these days is like playing that game "whack a mole." As soon as you feel like you have a handle on one site like facebook, another one crops up. Maybe it's google plus, or twitter, or tumbler, or skype, etc. It's all I can do to keep up with the new ones. 

For those of you with younger teens, the answer is short, supervision, supervision, supervision. For some reason, this has become some kind of a dirty word for parents. Supervision has become synonymous with nosy, budinsky, over protective, and disrespectful of your teen's privacy. It is none of these. It is smart! Your young teen especially, is approaching these new technologies with an immature brain, and inexperience. Expect them to do stupid things. Expect them to make bad decisions. And expect them to think you are crazy for making such a big deal. Like this parent above, she has an absolute right to be terrified when her 14 year old daughter is "friends" with boys she does not know. A recent local story about a 14 year old girl who was befriended on facebook by a 41 year old predator, thank god had a happy ending. But the girl did run away from home, got on a bus to NYC. They found her in New Jersey in the home of this man. 

Here are my safety rules: 

1. If I have said this once, I have said this a thousand time, no smartphones. This gives your teen complete and utter freedom from your prying eyes. You have absolutely no idea what sites they are going to, and the frequency and duration of their time on social networking sites. This goes for ITouch, and IPADs, and Just say NO!!!!!Grow some balls parents, and suck it up. Put these on the DO NOT BUY holiday shopping list.

2. Younger teens should only have access to the computer in common areas. Laptops should not be allowed in their bedrooms, where they are away from your prying eyes. I do not have a problem with kids on facebook. It's fun! If you forbid it, your teen will get on it in secret, at a friend's house. The devil you know, is better than the devil you don't, but install a program that limits time. Go over their friend list with them, ask them how each person is connected to them

2. Make sure your teen shares their password with you. If they refuse, than they only get to use the computer for homework, and block all social networking sites. 

3. Spend time with them researching what happens to kids who friend people they don't know, post pictures or text that has caused trouble. Make this a pre-requisite for using the computer for social networking. Just telling them that it can be dangerous is not educating them. Do it together. That's why they invented google. When kids read these stories out loud, it will be heard, unlike your words, which won't. Last night I watched a show called Catfish on MTV using on-demand. It is based on a documentary that came out last year about a filmmaker who had been carrying on a cyber relationship with a woman he thought was his age, mid-twenties, smart, funny, a soulmate. He documented his trip to finally meet her after months of texts and phone calls. It turned out to be a middle aged woman who was quite troubled. This same guy now has a show on MTV where he documents someone else's meet and greet with their cyber sweetie. This show is a GREAT way to start this discussion with your teen about meeting "friends" online. Last night's episode was about a 21 year old girl who had met her gorgeous soul mate on facebook. They had been having  "relationship" for 8 months. Short story, "the handsome male model" she was so in love with and had been talking marriage with, turned out to be an 18 year old bi-sexual girl with enormous issues, as you can imagine. Your teens love MTV, and having you suggest watching a show on it would definately be a good opening for conversation. If you can't stop yourself from being judgemental and critical of how stupid this girl was, than either don't watch or tape your mouth shut. This is about your teen talking not you!

4. Make sure you look at their wall, their tweets, their tumbler, whatever they do, to make sure that there is nothing on there of theirs that you don't like. This is a non negotiable. You want to make clear to your teen that this is a social networking training program, just like learning to drive. Sure it would be much more fun to just get in the car and drive, but your job is to make sure that they are safe.

4. If, like the parent above, you are concerned with strange friends that are posting things that scare the sh** out of you, have your teen unfriend them, or lose computer privilege. 

Education is your best amunition


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