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Things to consider before your teen gets on Facebook

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, at 8:45 p.m.

Your 13-year-old wants a Facebook page. Facebook says OK. What should you say?

Before you decide whether your 13-year-old is ready for Facebook, consider how Facebook decided it was ready for him.

“It’s not a safety matter,” says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at Common Sense Media. “It’s a matter of complying with the law.”

That law is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1998, which bars websites from collecting personal data from kids younger than 13 without their parents’ consent.

The site doesn’t get any more or less dangerous when a child passes over to the teenage years, she says.

“It’s a very personal decision, and we don’t want to legislate what we think is right,” says Knorr. “We do offer guidance, and we definitely suggest taking a look at your child’s own maturity level.”

Points to consider:

•  Time commitment: “Facebook is a big time-suck,” Knorr says. “Especially because kids can access it on their phones.”

•  Blowback: Kids need to think through “the consequences of what they’re posting,” she says. “That’s hard for kids because their brains are not really developed enough to think beyond living in the moment.” Preach a “Before you post, pause” mantra.

•  Privacy matters: “We recommend parents talk to their kids about keeping private information private,” she says. For example, you don’t have to fill in every field in the profile, such as phone numbers.

•  Friending boundaries: “We recommend teens limit their network to people they know in the real world. Facebook gives you a lot of options because their goal is to maximize connections on their network.” A parent’s goal: limiting a child’s network to people the child knows.

•  Your status: “Kids know they can block their parents from seeing their posts. Kids know the ins and outs of filtering their audience. If your kid says, ‘OK, I’ll friend you,’ or ‘No way, I’m not going to friend you,’ that shouldn’t really be your decision-maker.”

•  The upside: “Parents need to take into account the social value of kids having a Facebook page,” Knorr says. “For some kids, all their friends are on it and they’re out of the loop if they’re not. It’s important to understand that social networking is an essential part of teens’ lives.

“Not everything on Facebook is bad. Kids strengthen their relationships on Facebook. They can get homework assignments. It’s a huge communications channel.”

As with most things involving young teens, the more oversight the better. Parents must step in from a guidance and safety perspective, Knorr says. “Nobody’s really minding the store, and teens just can’t see beyond the moment.”

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