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“Are you on Facebook?”

August 10, 2012

“Why, yes, I am…”

I joined Facebook in 2008. I missed the boat on MySpace, so Facebook was like a whole new world of computer fun for me. I found old friends, new friends, cousins and co-workers. What a way to find out about others - pictures, likes, info about them - all right there for the reading.

As a person pretty interested in people and social relationships, I was hooked. My friend from second grade has kids? I’ll take a look! My co-worker’s wedding pictures? I’m in! I joined in on the fun and posted a few pictures of my family, too. I updated my status fairly regularly. I shared with everyone that I liked to watch “The Office” and loved The Beatles.

All the while, the inherent safety and privacy concerns of Facebook came up in casual conversation with family and friends. It wasn’t really that different from when the internet era began. Remember chat rooms? The start of online dating? So many safety concerns. Do you really know who’s reading this?  Do you really know who you are talking to?  I don’t know about anyone else, but with Facebook, I wasn’t too worried. I felt somewhat of a sense of security. These are my friends and family. I know them.

Time went by and I enjoyed the benefits of Facebook. I got to know people better and reconnect with old friends. It was an easy way to communicate and network. But as time has gone on, I have noticed some things that make me uneasy.

First, I have my page set to be pretty private. At least, I think I do (I’m not the most technical person in the world), but I’ve noticed that I can see comments that my friends make on other people’s posts and pictures. And I don’t know these people. I then realized that people that I don’t know can see my comments that I make or see my posts when mutual friends comment on them. I don’t know these people. I’m not too cool with that.

Second, I started seeing stuff that I personally just wasn’t comfortable with. Most of my Facebook friends are parents, like me. Naturally, most of their posts center around their kids. Many of them are the typical “Johnny lost a tooth” or “Sarah learned how to ride without her training wheels.”

But, I also see mini rants about behavior issues: disclosing of bedwetting, complaining about low grades and parents calling their children “terrors.”  I’m not criticizing anyone for thinking or saying these things. Parenting is hard. We have the right to say whatever we want on our Facebook pages. We all get frustrated with things our kids say and do. However, these are the things that used to be shared face to face, between fellow parents to gain support and share ideas. The difference now is that it is being shared in somewhat of a public forum, where even the child potentially has access to read it one day.

Third, I have noticed pictures. Sneak peeks into birthday parties, births, vacations, first days of school, many of us (including myself) have done it. It’s natural for us, as parents, to want to share about our children and families. However, I’ve seen some pictures that have caused me to raise my eyebrows. The one that really concerns me? Summertime shots of teens in bikinis. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve seen it several times and it’s the parents, not the kids, that are posting them.

So, this leads me back to the original concerns of the internet. Just exactly who are we sharing this info with? We’re all friends on Facebook, aren’t we? Or are we?

I started to question exactly how well I knew the 100+ people that I am friends with. Some of them I have not seen since the third grade. I don’t truly know some of these people. And of those people that I do know, how careful are they are about safeguarding their own account?  Do these people share their passwords with others?  In essence, how trustworthy are all of these “friends”?

I’ve spent years counseling kids, many of them who’ve been abused, and I’m sure this has caused me to be extra sensitive to safety issues. The truth is, there are a lot of people out there that do not have good intentions when it comes to children. I’ve seen many posts from friends over the years that share the details of their kids’ lives. Details about school, activities, where they live, where they hang out, just to name a few. That sure is making things easy for a predator. Those familiar with characteristics of people that abuse children know that the abuser is often someone who already knows the child and their family - someone who is more likely to be a Facebook friend than someone who is not.

My goal here is to not scare anyone, simply to mention that these things can happen.

As far as my Facebook habits go, I decided to make some changes. I adopted a new guideline. I scroll down my list of friends periodically and promptly remove anyone if I suddenly feel that they really don’t need to be there. I hope that they don’t realize it. I’m not looking to hurt feelings; I’ve just decided that I don’t know them as well as I should before I let them into my little world.

Before posting, I ask myself, “If I were in a room with these 100+ people, would I tell them this status update, face to face?  Would I show each and every one of them this picture?”  When the answer is no, I don’t put it out there.

I also started to think about my son. He’s young, but he has lots of opinions about a lot of things. I ask him or I play a quick conversation in my mind of me saying to him, “Hey, do you mind if I put up this picture?” or “Is it ok if I tell everyone about…?”  Then, depending on what he says or what I think he would answer, I proceed accordingly.  I figure, he has a right to have a say regarding what I share about him.  I would want someone to ask me if it was okay before they posted something about me. If he ever does happen to read my Facebook page, I don’t want him to be embarrassed, hurt, or confused by what he reads.

It’s a tricky thing, navigating social media as a parent. We want to share because we love our kids and are proud of them. Additionally, we want to share because parenting is a tough job and we all need support.

However, when we’re parents, it’s not just about us; it’s about our kids. A popular motto around the Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families, where I work is, “Is it good for the child?” There is a lot of talk out there about the boundaries and limits we should teach our kids as they start to explore the world of social media. I am choosing to spend some time thinking about the boundaries and limits I should follow, too.

For myself and for my family.