Ideally, there would be a way to enforce a rule that social networking accounts can only be established by, or with the consent of, an adult. Unfortunately, that's not how the Internet works. If your teenager is savvy enough to surf the web, she probably knows how to access just about any site. Facebook is definitely no exception. Since a teenager can access Facebook without a parent's permission, it's important to familiarize yourself with the way the site works so you can make using it as safe as possible for your child.
1. Take Responsibility
Facebook permits teens 13 and older to create profiles. Since your teenager doesn't need your permission to make a profile on Facebook, she could technically have one without your knowledge. The first step in keeping her safe is to find out if she has an account to begin with. Don't assume she hasn't made one simply because she hasn't asked your permission. If you allow your teenager to maintain an online profile, you should familiarize yourself with all of the ways that you can make sharing information safer for her. Take responsibility for teaching your child how to use social media safely. This will require learning a bit about it yourself.
2. About Friend Requests
Your teenager's privacy can be compromised if she accepts "friend requests" from people she does not know. A friend request is a request to connect with a person on Facebook. Once a request is accepted, that person has access to information in your teenagers profile. Facebook has some default safeguards in place to help protect your teen's privacy -- but they only work to keep people who haven't been accepted as friends from accessing her information. Once your teen accepts a friend request, her new "friend" has access to information and photos. Privacy settings can be adjusted to control which friends have access to certain information and photos. The best way to ensure that strangers don't have access to your teenager's personal information, however, is to set a rule that she may not accept requests from strangers. If she does, let her know it will be grounds for cancelling her account.
3. Default Safeguards For Teenagers
While a teenager can technically use Facebook without a parent's permission, the site provides default settings to help keep her use as safe as possible. While adults can share any post with the public, teenagers are only able to share posts with friends and friends of friends. This provides some privacy, but remember that friends of friends can still be complete strangers. The "chat" function, which allows people to send and receive instant messages, is limited to "friends only" for teenage accounts. A similar safeguard is in place for private messages, which can only be sent to your teen by friends and friends of friends. The "location" setting is typically turned off for teen accounts, though teens can turn it on. Stress the importance of leaving this turned off, as it ascribes locations to photos, status updates and events. Keep in mind that your teen is only as safe as her friends are. If your child has friends who accept requests from strangers, her privacy may still be compromised.
4. Keeping Your Teenager Safe
As an adult, you may have no interest in learning about Facebook, but if your child is using it, you need to know how to use it, too. Although Facebook offers default settings to ensure that your teen has extra privacy, you can improve the privacy settings even further if you adjusting settings manually. Make sure all privacy setting are set to "friends only" instead of "friends of friends." Go over these privacy settings with your child to make sure she knows how to control the way in which her information is shared. Make a Facebook profile of your own and make it mandatory that your teen "friend" you so you can monitor her online use. You can respect your child's boundaries on social media just like you do in the real world. Knowing that you can see her activity will make her more prone to use the site in a respectful, conscientious way. If you see "friends" that you don't recognize, ask your child about them. It bears repeating that teens should not be accepting friend requests from people they don't know. Your teenager wouldn't open the door to your house to a stranger. Let her know that the same rules apply to strangers online.
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