I read an article recently suggesting that parents who did not have a Facebook or MySpace profile were missing the boat. It even went so far as to say that conscientious parents should be requiring their teens to "friend" them, which means they can have full access to each others' profiles, thus seeing all their conversations and pictures, as well as those of the other kids they communicate with.
My first response was to cringe. And then, since I try to have an open mind, I attempted to find a good reason to make myself do this. But I could not come up with anything.
So I ran it by a teenager I know who is wise well beyond her years. Her reaction? Shock and dismay that parents would feel the need to go to that extreme to find out what their teenagers were up to. Her suggestion? Just ask them.
Yep, it's that simple. Say to your teen, "Hey, I've been hearing about this Facebook thing lately. Will you show me what it's all about? Can I see your profile sometime?"
This simple request is powerful. It's casual, it's curious, and it lets your teen know that you are aware of their use of technology. It also gives them time to clean up anything they don't want you to see.
When they show you, don't read every single word or follow every link. You'll get the gist of it on the home page. It's okay to be curious, "What's the story behind that picture?" but don't go digging for trouble! Ask them to share their favorite things with you. Keep it light and playful. Ask if they can help you search for the profiles of some of your friends sometime since you don't have your own. Let them man the keyboard while you relax and enjoy the ride.
Teens want some basic privacy, just like we adults do. When I was a teenager, I would have felt totally violated if my mom listened in on my three hour phone conversations. And she, more than likely, would have been bored to death. Luckily, she had better things to do!
Today, Facebook and texting are the methods of choice for teen communication. "Friending" my daughter would be like picking up the phone extension in another room and eavesdropping. I'm just not willing to go that far. It feels like a violation of her privacy. I don't need or want to know every little detail about her social life. Ditto with reading her text messages, her diary, or her email. It's none of my business.
Additional food for thought from the teenager I consulted:
- It's very easy to create a profile under another name. If you force your kids to "friend" you, they can simply create another profile where they have their "real" conversations. Other teens will not communicate freely with yours when they know that you can read it. Duh! Teens who are determined to have private communications will always find a way.
- "If parents feel the need to spy on their teen, something has already gone wrong in their relationship."
- If you monitor and control your teens too tightly, you are giving them the message that you don't trust them. Be careful about this - sometimes it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some will decide that if they will 'do the time' anyway, they might as well 'commit the crime.'
- The natural consequence of demonstrating responsibility is additional freedom. Parents have to let go sometime! It's a wise parent that respects and acknowledges autonomy.
- Teenagers have plenty of opportunity when they are away from home, including while they are at school all day, to get into trouble. Microscopic monitoring does not teach them how or why to make healthy choices when no one is looking.
- A better intervention than monitoring, spying, and controlling is to educate your teens about potential consequences. For example, cut out articles or send them links to websites about teen drinking, teen pregnancy, etc. Some kids learn best from anecdotal stories, some prefer statistics. Be casual and offhand. Leave relevant books and articles on their desk without saying a word. Let them learn with dignity and privacy, rather than hammering your lesson in over dinner.
- Or ask their opinion about something you heard or a story you read in the paper -- a drinking and driving accident, an abduction, or an overdose. (Look what came out in the conversation when I asked her about this Facebook thing!)
- If you don't freak out, your teen will freely tell you almost everything you want to know. Freaking out means: prying for more information, yelling, crying, guilt-tripping, being disappointed in them, making accusations, jumping to conclusions, over-dramatizing, over-reacting, punishing, or making assumptions/generalizations.
- If you want your teenager to continue to share details of her life with you, don't judge, question, or criticize what she tells you!
- "Teens who have never been shown respect by their parents don't respect themselves." She drew this conclusion from watching her friends being parented from a young age, and seeing the choices they are making today. In her assessment, the parents who were most controlling and invasive simply drove their kids' risky behavior underground. Those are the girls who are sneaking out their bedroom windows at midnight to meet boys from Facebook.
- "If parents are willing to go to all the work of creating a profile so they can spy on their kids, why don't they instead put that time and effort into educating their kids about the potential consequences of risky behavior, and listen/support/encourage them as they navigate their way through these choices?"
I couldn't have said it better myself.
And as always, this is just my opinion. You may decide to get a profile and 'friend' your teen for reasons that make good sense to you. My goal is simply to present some additional information to consider as you make your choice carefully and conscientiously.
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