Kids these days, with their Facebooks and Twitters and the phones that are smart–who do they think they are? Flash Gordon? One thing’s for sure: When it comes to computers, these whippersnappers think their knowledge and expertise leave their parents in the Stone Age. So, Mr. or Ms. Cavedweller, should you be your child’s friend on Facebook? Is it your priority as a parent to protect her, or to trust her to do what she knows is right?
Facebook is a netherworld of deceit and temptation–a series of gutters, each overflowing with more filth and depravity than the last. A child has neither the life experience nor the emotional maturity to recognize or appropriately deal with an online con artist or sexual predator. He needs you as his Facebook friend, if only to keep a loving watchful eye over him as he navigates the turbulent waters of social media. He may know every line of code behind Facebook’s technology, but he does not know the darkness that lies in the heart of human sharks who use Facebook as their feeding grounds. He will friend you, and that’s that.
The tenuous bond between a parent and a teen is made of thin strands of trust. You have passed your wisdom on to her, you have led by shining example, and you have helped her to learn by her–and your–mistakes. Now is the time when you must let loose the moorings and trust her to row and steer the currents and eddies of the Sea of Facebook to find safe passage to adulthood. Leave her be, and trust that the love you two share will engender two-way trust; when she encounters trouble, she will come to you, knowing that you will assist unconditionally. Do not friend her.
Levity aside, this is not a choice that can be made for you, nor is it one that you should make on your own. Talk with your child; even if you exercise veto power, solicit his input. Don’t enter the discussion with preconceptions or a final decision.
The first thing you should ask is: Why does she use Facebook? Is she simply socializing with real-world friends? Does she collaborate on schoolwork or extra-curricular activities? Is she getting involved in causes or learning more about other cultures? These are a few of the ways in which Facebook can positively influence a teenager.
On the other hand, if you get the feeling that he uses Facebook to bolster his self-esteem by presenting himself to be someone he isn’t, or to find a group to fit in with, investigate further.
Whether her reasons for being on Facebook are positive, troubling, mixed, or unknown, you should at least work out a way in which you can get an idea of who she interacts with and what the tone of those interactions are. If you need more information on how Facebook works and how to talk to your child about it, check out the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) Parent’s Guide to Facebook (PDF).
Guest contributor: Al Natanagara is a writer, journalist, and blogger whose career includes stints with ZDNet, CNet, CBS, LexisNexis, and law enforcement. He has hundreds of Facebook friends, but all of them are blocked.