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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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kate Bennett August 29, 2012 at 03:05 PM
That is brilliant! I had no idea about that, and will use it once my kids catch a case of Teh Facebooks.
Lori Lancaster August 29, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Thing is without probable cause (not undifferentiated fear) it is illegal search and seizure. These rules were on the books since we were in School. I also sat my daughter down when the Facebook thing came to light and told her no matter what, she was not to give out her password & username to the school (or anyone else for that matter.) I told her it was a violation of her civil liberties, her right to privacy, and that it was no business of the school what she was doing there.That if they continued to bother her concerning this, that she is to insist that her parents be called. Regarding facebook I set up ground rules with my daughter. I realized it was a losing battle when even her BFF's little 1st grade sister and nearly every other kid in the subdivision seemed to have an account. As such I realized it was important to set up ground rules early. 1) We (the parents) are allowed to have access to said FB account at any and all times. As her parents and guardians it is our job to make sure she is being properly protected and that no people masquerading as kids (or peers) are contacting her in an inappropriate fashion. We also established this rule to make sure we knew if she was being cyber bullied. 2) We are on her friends list 3) She does not friend anyone she does not know personally unless it is family. In addition we set up permissions that will only allow her internet access until 9:30pm.
Kate Bennett August 29, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I like the idea of setting up ground rules first, and am going to see if I can set a time her internet gets axed at. Those are great!
Chris Faber August 29, 2012 at 05:20 PM
You can set a time to stop internet access through your router. You can also block specific url's the same way. The easiest way I've found to gain more control of this stuff is by using an alternate firmware for your router. There are a couple open source options, I use DD-WRT. I'll try to give a few details as non-technical as possible. Routers have some basic software (firmware) built in to them. This is where you go to set-up your wifi password and things like that. It is accessed by typing in the router's IP address, usually 192.168.1.1 and then entering a password. Most people follow the instructions to set this up when they get it, and then never think about it again. Like I said earlier, the built-in firmware is pretty basic on most $20ish home routers, but you can install alternate firmware, such as DD-WRT or Tomato, that has a lot more features. WARNING - this is perfectly legal and all that but it will probably void your warranty on your router. With DD-WRT, you can choose specific connected devices according to their unique IP addresses and then limit hours, bandwidth, urls, etc just on those IP's. Yes there will be ways for the kids to work around this, but it won't be easy. I can post a couple of links, but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to do that here. I'll just say for now, if you're interested, google it.
Kate Bennett August 29, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Chris a lot of that is way over my head, but thankfully my nerd (I use that as a compliment) husband.will understand it perfectly. Thanks!
Tony Pronenko August 30, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Don't get me wrong, and with all due respect, what and how you oversee the activities of your children is 100% your business. I however, do not need to take it that far and many other will not either and here is why. In the age that we live in there are a fairly large percentage of preteens that can run circles around most parents on a computer, cell phone, or any other electronic device. I am fortunate to have been a "computer geek" since I was 12 (I am not 37) and each of my kids right down to my 8 year old can handle a computer better than most adults I know. My point is this. Yes. We absolutely have to be mindful of what our kids are doing and if we are not we will regret it when something happens that we could have prevented. But we as parents have to know where to draw the line. Sure, the cell phone I bought for my 14 year old daughter when she was 12 is "technically" mine. However, I gave it to her along with a long discussion on trust, responsibility, and a list of other things that she needs to be aware of. She knows that if she messes up she loses it, and trust me, that is the LAST thing a 14 year old girl wants. While most of your tips can be helpful, I don't think any of them is any more effective than a good solid relationship with your child and an understanding that they can trust you to give them a certain amount of privacy and you can trust them to come to you with things that they might be worried, confused, scared, or embarrassed about.
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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