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Privacy on Facebook for your children

Your children may be constantly asking if they can set up a facebook account so they can connect with their friends online. No doubt many of you have regularly heard the plea "but all my friends have a facebook account"! But how safe is Facebook and how can you keep them safe?

Something to note is that the minimum age put in place by Facebook is 13. If your child is under 13, they will have to lie about their age. If you opt to allow your child have a Facebook account, there are a number of ways in which you can keep an eye on their Facebook activity. The need for such supervision will obviously depend on the age and maturity of the child. We have set out below a couple of the ways you can monitor Facebook and have also provided some information on how to implement privacy setting to ensure maximum privacy for your child.

Set up a Facebook account for yourself so that you can become a ‘Friend’ of theirs.

One way to monitor your child's Facebook activity is to become a 'Friend' of your child on Facebook. This allows you to see quite a lot of what they are doing. Including seeing what photos they are tagged in, what applications they are using on Facebook and their general comments. It does not, on the other hand, allow you to see what Private Messages they send or receive from any other friend. While a younger teenager might be happy to have a parent as a 'Friend' on Facebook, for older teenagers it is not 'cool' to be seen by peers to have a parent as a 'Friend' !

Set up their account using your e-mail address

Another way you can monitor your teenager's Facebook account at the initial stages is to set up their account using your email address. By choosing the appropriate settings within Facebook, Facebook will send an e-mail every time somebody sends a message, tags a photo, sends a friend request or comments on your teenager’s profile. However, your child may learn to turn off these e-mail settings so you may need to keep an eye on on the settings page from time to time.

To check/amend the settings for e-mail updates, click on the drop down symbol in the top right hand corner and a menu will drop down. Select 'Settings' as as shown above. You will be greeted with the menu shown on the left. Select notifications, and click on the email icon.

When you choose Email from the 'Notifications' menu, you are given several options detailing when you will get emails regarding the activity on you child's facebook page. As they mature you may not feel the need to monitor the account so closely, and you can change the settings chosen here simply by returning to the same page. You can also change the e-mail notification address at a later date so that the updates are sent to the teenager's email address.

Privacy Setting and Information - Changing the privacy settings:

One of the most important ways to protect your teenager on Facebook is to ensure all the necessary Privacy Settings are in place so as to ensure that personal information cannot be openly viewed or that your child cannot be contacted by strangers. Settings include: who can ask to be their friend, see their posts and photos, and see their activity.

To implement Privacy Settings -click on the drop down menu in the top right hand corner and a menu will drop down. Select 'Settings', just as with the email settings, but instead of choosing the notification area of the menu, select the privacy option.

The 'Privacy Settings' page shows whether you share with Public, Friends Only or Custom Settings.
'Custom' settings used to allow you to make information such as their birthday - which is required to register - be invisible to everyone. This is no longer the case, and the flexibility of the Privacy settings has been drawn back. You have a choice on most Privacy settings with the options of allowing you to choose whether Everyone, Friends of Friends or Friends. The Friends option makes your child visible to the fewest people.

Once you have set that to Friends we recommend you change the 'Limit the Audience' section below that to Limit Past Posts. This means any posts they wrote in public in the past will only be viewable to their friends.]
The privacy settings provided by Facebook are more extensive than those allowed by most other sites, but it is important to note that once something is on the internet, it is there permanently. This is not only true for pictures and text posts, but for information, too. Everyone, no matter how old they are, should be aware of how much information they share online, and to whom it is easily accessible.

If you agree to set up a Facebook account for your child, it is important to

  • discuss with them at the outset the type of information they will be sharing on their Facebook page, the implications of the information they share and the dangers of Facebook (or any online community).
  • you should discuss and agree the nature of personal information which will be displayed, e.g. will you allow them display their phone number, address, religious beliefs? This sort of information is something their ‘friends’ should already know and would not normally be shared on Facebook.
  • If they are uploading photographs, do you want them to agree with you in advance what photos will be uploaded - you might not be happy for example for them to upload some family photos or photos which do not represent your child in a favourable light.
  • It is also important to discuss with them the nature of the comments or posts they may make on their own page or on other 'friends' facebook pages - similar to mobile phone etiquette, posts should not be offensive, bullying in nature etc.
  • It is also a good idea to instruct your child not to send 'Friend Requests' to people he/she does not know.
  • Be open with your child that you will be monitoring their account.