A recent post on the debate of whether parents should be “friends” with their children on Facebook inspired me to write this blog. I discuss this issue in Chapter 7 of my book Futureproof Your Kids (due April 2013), however there are a few other aspects which I would like to bring to your attention.
Back in October I wrote a blog for Business Chicks on the issues of friending where I discussed how the definition of a “friend” needs to be considered when it comes to online platforms. Where once a friend was someone whom you knew and developed a relationship with over time, a “friend” on Facebook might be someone you have never met, and really know nothing about.
The next dimension to the issue of “friending” on Facebook is the very issue that Mel has described in her blog which inspired this post. Should a parent be “friends” with their child on Facebook?
The very first thing I want to state is that this is nothing to do with the argument about whether parents should be actual friends (as in playmates and confidants) with their children, (that is a separate debate which is held on many a parent forum). Rather this is about the definition of a “friend” on Facebook. There are numerous areas which must be considered in regards to this, but at a very basic level, if your child is under 16 then I would say categorically YES.
It is impossible for a parent to gauge whether their child is capable of having full reign online, if the parent does not know the kind of things that their child is doing online. It is vital that we are in the space. In my book I discuss in some detail all of the reasons for this kind of involvement, but in a nutshell it is to ensure that your child has developed the skills required to be able to safely navigate the online world. They (and you) must understand the environment, the influences which they may be exposed to, how to deal with bullies or negative experiences, and fundamentally understanding the possible risks to their own future through poor management of their online presence.
How do you know when you child is ready? The age of your child, their emotional maturity level and experience with technology all come into play. Through my business at iRespectonline® I have developed the 4Rs Reputation framework® which is built around four main domains, or pillars of reputation. These are Respect, Responsibility, Resilience and Research. Futureproof Your Kids explains this framework and there is a chapter on each of the domains to explain how to apply these fundamental values.
Once you are confident that your child is capable (not just confident, because our children often are much more confident than they are able in reality!), then you can start to back off. As Mel pointed out in her post, it is important to demonstrate respect and not buy into every discussion that your child has, rather just be there in the background, ready to step in and offer guidance should the need arise. Your child is much more likely going to open up to you and feel confident that they can talk to you if you have shown them that you respect them and trust them (within defined boundaries).
Whatever you do, do not buy into an online argument or go flying to the defense of your child if someone posts something you don’t like. My own children are young adults and I know there have been a couple of times I have had my “mummy bristles” up when I have seen a post which I thought was rather rude or ill-considered by someone, but I have had to hold back. What then happened was that my son didn’t react as he is quite capable of making decisions about what is going on online, and it all just died down. If I had leapt to his defence and gone of half cocked because it had offended me, it could have caused major issues online, and turned a very small thing into something much bigger. (This ties in the domain of resilience which includes the importance of understanding restraint).
On the issue of “buying in” to children’s interactions online, I have had discussions with parents who feel that interfering or monitoring online activity is a breach of the child’s privacy; however I disagree. We have an obligation as parents to protect our children. No parent would ever say it was a breach of privacy to observe their children playing outside, on the contrary parents are often criticised for not watching them closely enough. Why should it be any different in the “online playground’?
We, as the parents, must demonstrate the values and behaviour that we wish our children to emulate, and if we are not engaging with them at all online, how are they to understand, and more to the point, how can you give direction to your child if you yourself do not understand the space?
I welcome discussion and debate on this issue or any other issue in regards to reputation in the online environment. Comment below or come over and join my Facebook community at www.facebook.com/irespectonline. If you would like to know about any of the other services I can provide, or the workshops I hold in relation to this topic, or other related topics, please drop me a line at email@example.com.
You can find out more about me at www.fionalucas.com.au