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Kate Bennett: Kids' Facebook Is Parents' Business

I am a dirty, sneaky, nosy old person and proud of it.

There is an article on the front page of the Patch about how to have a great school year. One point mentioned was making sure you are watching your kids' Facebook. I know some parents may object to violating their child's privacy, but I say if you're under 18, live in my house and are legally my child, you don't get online privacy.

It's not even that I don't trust them. It's that I don't trust the interwebs to not be full of bullies and pedos.

So! Here goes! This is how I spy on my kids, the poor things. My oldest is a preteen, so this is geared more toward the junior high set.

1) There is no Facebook. I am sure eventually there will be, but I will hold out as long as humanly possible. Now for those of you sitting there thinking "PFFT, that lady's kids have Facebook and she just doesn't know," hold that thought till you get to the bottom of the list.

2) Get your kid a phone if you can.

3) BLOCK PICTURE MESSAGING ON THE PHONE

4) Enable GPS and call your provider and ask them to enable Chaperone, if you have Verizon. I am not sure what similar service is called through other providers. This will allow you to pinpoint the child's location at all times. Eventually they will figure out they can turn off the phone to hide from the chaperone. You can delay this by not telling them about it, but they will eventually figure it out. Teenagers, they are smart.

5) Offer to charge your child's phone for them at night. Or steal it while they are in the shower. That phone belongs to you, one way or another. And you need to go in on a regular basis, read the texts and see what social media sites it is linked to.

Note that you don't NEED to link your Facebook to your device to get into it. So go to the URL through the browser, too. If there is an email auto-popped, or if they are already logged in, your kid's got Facebook. Sadly, this is like finding out your kid has a lifelong condition, because you can't stop them now.

Now, here is the hard part. If you see something you don't like, you have to bite your tongue unless it MUST be addressed, otherwise you are giving up the ghost that you are watching them. I mean, they will figure it out eventually, as I am sure there are 800 teenage tricks to avoid parental surveillance. I have no idea how to deal with that, when the time comes.

6) MMOs geared toward the preteen set. These are huge around my house right now. Wizard101, Roblox, Wolfquest. These things are like spyware on crack with the way they bog your system down, so avoid them if you can. If you can't or don't want to, most of them come with the option to only allow your child to send messages from a drop down list, rather than direct chat. Choosing this option will also prevent them from seeing messages that are typed in manually by other users. Neat, huh?

7) Your kid's computer! Make sure you are looking through here ALL the time. Check the browser history. Go to Facebook and see if it's logged in, or if there is an email auto-popped on the home page. Check out the recent downloads. Once your kid has Facebook, install a keytracer and a password sniffer. Don't play, and don't hesitate. You don't want your kid to be the one the creepoid manstranger found on the Facebook.

Lastly, protect your child's privacy from anyone else. I read an article on about my daughter's principal in Geneva allegedly making some little girl log into her Facebook so he could read it during the course of an investigation. I sat my daughter down and told her that her phone is MY property, not hers, and that if anyone at school asks her to unlock it she is to say no and have them call me.

If that call comes, I will go to the school myself and go through the phone. Any evidence pertinent to what they are looking for I will share. But they aren't going to read through my daughter's texts the way I do. My daughter texts me, my sisters, my mother, my husband, etc. and so on. Geneva schools don't need to be seeing that.

So bottom line, once they hit maybe 13 or 14, none of this is useful. But for now, I have my 12 year old covered.

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Kate Bennett August 30, 2012 at 03:07 AM
I am honestly not sure I need to take it that far either. The reason I do is more about her protection than worrying about her behavior. I do plan to give her more privacy when and as she needs it, but for now it really is more about fear of weirdos and bullies. And I talk to her way more than I snoop on her. She knows all about boys, all about respect, all about weirdos on the internet disguised as kids. When I blocked her picture messaging, I told her exactly why. Same for chat permissions on her games. She's received a couple of texts from boys that had me itching to deliver a long lecture about boys that she's probably heard 100 times. I didn't because I didn't want to dilute the message, and because she actually tells me when some boy is being a pain in the butt. But what I AM on the lookout for and ready to act on is bullying. I learned the hard way with this particular child that the schools will not help you if your kid is being bullied. And anything you try to do to get the school to help will make the bullying worse. Because I learned this the hard way, I worry that maybe she wouldn't tell me if she WAS being bullied. In her experience, telling me hasn't helped at all, and in some cases made it worse. And not because I didn't care or try to help. And then there's the weirdos.
Martha Hanna August 30, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Gosh am I glad my kids are 30 and 27, this all sounds so complicated!! Parents have to snoop and protect that is for sure. Good job Kate, and good luck.
Anne Cesarone August 30, 2012 at 06:19 PM
I have a lot of friends whom allow their kids to have a facebook page, with the stipulation that the child has to accept the parent as a "friend". Their thought process is that they will see all of their child's posts, and thus have a handle on what they are doing on Facebook. However, there are ways around this! In the childs' privacy settings, they can basically create a "blocked" list, which blocks particular "friends" from seeing a post. This can be done on a "per post" basis - they may only let you see the one's they want you to see! To check to see if your child has this set up, simply ask them for their phone, open the facebook app, and click on the status icon. At the bottom right of the Update Staus window, you will see a globe. If you select it, there will be options for "Audience". The default audiences are Public, Friends and Only Me. If you see any other options, they have set up a custom audience. I agree with some of the comments about giving your child some privacy, but if you see that your child has taken the time to create this custom audience (it can be named whatever they like), I would start asking some questions. Is the child excluding the parent from viewing some post? If so, why? If they are excluding other people, then for what purpose?
Kate Bennett August 30, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Martha, I don't know if I look forward to the kids being adults, or dread it. Probably a combination of both, like so many other things about parenthood. But yes, it's really complicated to keep these kids on track and safe now! Not that it was a cakewalk 20 years ago, when I was in middle school. But jeez...there are SO many ways they can get into trouble now.
Kate Bennett August 30, 2012 at 08:13 PM
That is great information. I think it's key that we all stay as informed as possible about various functionalities for social media, specifically so we can look for warning signs such as this.

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