According to a recent survey, 75% of teens have a Facebook profile, 54% check their status once a day, and 65% of them access Facebook through their mobile devices.
Teens are living, increasingly, in a social world. So how do parents handle this? Some have tried to ban their children from Facebook outright. This may work, for a time, but ultimately, I think, it only serves to isolate the child from life in the 21st century and ill prepares him or her to making discerning life choices.
My oldest child is seven and she doesn’t even know what Facebook is just yet. I’m pretty happy with this. But the day will come in the not-so-distant future when Angela and I will need to help her navigate the world of social networking. Because I want her to successfully live out our faith in her generation, I don’t have the option of sheltering her from the communication tools of the world God has placed her in.
Thankfully, Angela and I have a few years to flesh out a good Facebook policy. But for those who are currently parenting teens, I suggest a three-pronged engagement approach.
1. First, allow your teen to use Facebook but join Facebook yourself and become his or her friend.
You must engage your teen in this social networking world. For some parents, this is not a problem, since they already have a Facebook presence. If you don’t and you think Facebook is an unnecessary waste of time, I suggest you get up to speed quickly, build a Facebook profile and friend your teen.
In fact, I insist that one of the rules you establish for your teen is that you, as the parent, must be allowed access, at least at the friend level. It’s better to engage your teen on Facebook than ignore Facebook, attempt to ban it, then be surprised at what you see on her page (because she will establish one with or without your permission) and cause more family disharmony than you need.
2. Secondly, model proper Facebook etiquette.
The best way to help your teen utilize social networking for God’s glory. This means you think and act about what you post on your status. What surprises me most about social networking is how freely some are with their coarse language, posting rumors or myths, and telling too much inside family information. As a parent, what you do in moderation your teen will do in excess.
Furthermore, if you are addicted to Facebook, how can you lecture your teen on his own addiction? You can’t. I’m thinking right now about how often I check my iPhone at home and what effect this will have on my children.
Perhaps you set a family digital policy—something Craig Groeschel recommends in his book, Weird. Keep yourself and your teen accountable to a limited number of hours online.
3. Third, draft a list of rules for your teen on Facebook.
Be careful how you do this. I would arrange a time for you and your teen to sit down and for you to discuss some things that are good about Facebook and some things that are bad or negative. You should drive the discussion, but let your teen have some input, some buy-in. Agree to a list of common-sense rules (no cussing, no immodest pictures, no family information).
You might tell her that you will hold yourself to these very same rules. And if she breaks one, then you will hold her accountable. I would suggest you give her permission to hold you accountable if you break a rule as well.
I would also strongly recommend that you never, ever, call out your child online, by commenting on one of their posts or posting some passive-aggressive update that he/she will know refers to them. If you see something on their profile you find objectionable, talk to them offline and do it in a spirit of grace, point them to Scripture, and then urge them to repent and either change or delete what you thought was appropriate.
The bottom line for you, as a parent, is not to merely prevent disaster from happening on Facebook—this is vital—but you are training your future adult how to communicate as a Christian in the 21st Century. You are equipping them for life. One day they will be grateful you took the time to enter their world.