10 Ideas for Facebook Parental Controls and What You Can Do Until They Are There

In Family, General, Opinion, Parenting, Safety, Security, Social Media, Social Networking by Michael Sheehan17 Comments

Facebook needs parental controls – although I will bet that if you ask kids between the ages of 13 and 16, they would say that it definitely does NOT need ANY type of parental control whatsoever. But, being a parent and a bit of a social media junkie, I know that something is definitely needed. Children are simply too young to understand the dangers of having a social presence. It is fun when things are going great, but as soon as social bullying rears its ugly head, it can be devastating to your kids. Not only that, but, like video games, cell phones, TV or technology in general, it can become incredibly addictive. I should know, I have a technology addiction (and a bit of Attention Deficit Disorder thrown in for good measure).

As adults we “supposedly” have the tools and intelligence to work with social media the “proper” way, although I would state that many people act like little, immature children when they are using it. But children often don’t have the experience or the “maturity” to cope with bullies, cliques, relational aggression or simply mean kids online. The number one thing that you, as parents, can do to navigate these tricky waters is to educate and talk to your children about both the advantages and disadvantages of being on Social Media. I am going to focus on Facebook specifically in this article mainly because it seems to be the most personal and has the most privacy controls, believe it or not, as compared to Google+ or Twitter. And most kids are on Facebook, even younger than the 13 years or older limit that is outlined within the Facebook Terms of Service and checked during the registration process.

It is really up to you to decide if you are going to abide by the age restriction. There may be reasons why you might want your 12 year old to be on Facebook. I’m not sure if I would let kids younger than that on there but I have heard of plenty who are. But you are the parent so that choice is yours. However, I do feel that there needs to be some tighter restrictions for those “legal” kids (13 and older) who are on Facebook.

Facebook needs to do something about this. They should have done this years ago in my opinion. Instead, they grew the complexity of the privacy settings to the point where you need a masters degree in Social Media to even come close to figuring it out. What Facebook HAS done recently related to kids is add the ability to include an unborn child in your profile. Uh really? Let’s get some innovation here and help those parents who are worried about their “born” kids on Facebook.

As a parent of a child who recently joined Facebook, I’m concerned. Currently without direct oversight, how can I ensure that she isn’t being tagged in inappropriate photos taking by her friends. How do I know if the people she is friending or who are friending her won’t hurt her in some way. Luckily, both my wife and I are pretty savvy on the workings of Facebook, or at least we think we are. We have heard stories of how parents friended their children so that they could keep their eyes on them, only to later learn that their kids tweaked their privacy setting to pretty much block their parents from seeing any of their activities, photos, videos, check-ins, etc. It’s pretty hard to avoid that. Kids are really smart when it comes to this.

But I have some ideas, some of them a bit far-fetch but ones that, in my mind, would definitely help quell the fears of parents.

10 Ideas for Facebook Parental Controls

Here are some ideas that I came up with:

  1. Time restrictions – the worst thing about Facebook is that it is a huge time-suck. And it is addictive. And social. Which means that if you don’t watch your children, they will spend every second of the day on it. Many parental controls for computers have time and day restrictions. This is great for a computer, but Facebook is on mobile devices as well. I would say that within the parental control section, you would have the ability to set what day, what hours and how long a kid can use Facebook.
  2. Robust & non complicated privacy settings – the privacy setting need to be simplified so that “even a child could understand them”. That is to say, taking much of the privacy settings and the list creation and be able to simply add friends to lists and assign privacy settings to those lists. Sort of the reverse of how it is now where you set your privacy settings, then customize them by adding lists that you had previously created to those settings.
  3. Notification of friend requests – this is sort of a touchy one. Initially I thought that it would be important to have the parent approve friend requests, but that seems to be a bit draconian, and it would be pretty difficult to know which friend is who. Already built into Facebook is the notification of so-in-so just became friends with so-in-so. With this parental control, parents would simply be notified via email either immediately or in a digest of the friending activity.
  4. Editing of profile – while I review my daughter’s profile daily (and recently actually asked her to remove something), not all parents have the time to do that. So, similar to the friend request notification, parents could get a digest of what their children had changed on their profiles. They could then physically talk to them about any concerning changes. Remember, dialog with your child is important when it comes to any type of Social Networking.
  5. Restrictions on text messaging – Facebook asks for a mobile phone and you can tie messaging to that. In order to keep those text messaging charges down, there should be restrictions as to the number, frequency and timing of text messages.
  6. Parental view of profile without having to be a friend – this is a tricky one and may have to work in conjunction with #10 below. Some (many) kids don’t want to show that their parents are their friends on Facebook. Yet parents want visibility into what their kids are doing. There should be an ability to allow a parent to be an “invisible friend” of their child where they have full view of the profile and activities but can’t participate (e.g., wall posts) and do not appear on their child’s friend list.
  7. Control purchases – honestly, I have never bought anything on Facebook, but I’m assuming it is very easy to do. There would need to be an approval process in place for any type of purchasing activity within the child’s account.
  8. Photo tagging notifications to prevent bullying – when kids are tagged in their friends’ photos or if via the facial recognition (Facebook identifies a child), the parents need to be notified of this to ensure that the photos are appropriate. That way, the parent can take appropriate action (e.g., talking to the child or having the ability to “un-tag” their child from a photo).
  9. Limited Facebook – have a completely different login that may have some features crippled or missing, no ads or different types of ad geared towards a younger audience (I’m not sure that I’m sold on even the “appropriate ads”).
  10. Parent Linking – this would essentially be part of the signup process. Child accounts (up to a certain age) would be initiated by the parent and then the parent-child relationship would be locked, meaning that the child couldn’t put the parent on a certain list and then add that list to some of the restriction groups within the privacy settings. At any point, the parent could then “un-lock” the parent-child link and the child would be “free” to manage their account as they see fit.
  11. (Bonus) Parent Stream Limiting – there is also the other side of the equation. Sometimes you just don’t want your children to see what YOU are talking about or the pictures you are putting up. You can actually limit this now by customizing your privacy settings to restrict them from seeing some of your items. However, I do think that if the parent-child accounts are linked, you should have much better control over what they can see from your stream.

What do you think? If you have other ideas, please leave a comment!

Without Facebook Parental Controls, What Can You Do?

I don’t have a magical 10 point list, but I do have 3 things that you should do when your child travels down that Social Networking path.

  • Talk to them – this is the most important item that you can do. It’s your role as a parent to educate as well as protect your children. That means that you should have regular face-to-face conversations with them about social media and the sites available (like Facebook and Twitter). Explain how anything they do on social media is permanent and practically impossible to erase and can impact their lives in the future.
  • Work with them – help your child set up their Facebook account. Get their password or create their account for them. Regularly review their profile with them together and explain why certain things are good and others not.
  • Monitor them – if they allow you to be your friend, and honestly, I think you should insist that they are up to a certain age, regularly check their Facebook page and then use what you find for the first two points above. You don’t have to comment on their feed or stream or photos, you can, though, send them messages directly. Most kids don’t want their parents involved in their social stream so if you can be as unobtrusive as possible, your chances of having this be a positive experience increase dramatically.

Facebook is definitely an exciting things for kids if done correctly. In fact, kids are being “trained” at an early age to participate in social networking (e.g., Webkinz and Club Penguin). But as they grow up and the risks of social bullying and just “being stupid” grow as the limits and controls drop, you need to be sure that you as a parent are with them as they explore this new world.

HTD says: What is your view on Facebook for kids?