March 5, 2012

Suggestion for Facebook: Parental Access

We let Rob get a Facebook account on his 13th birthday. It ended up being a fun way to help mark the day: a 13th birthday felt like it was Special and needed Special Things, but it was hard to think of what those Things might be. Saying "Yes, when you're 13" for a couple of years and then "Okay, YES, today you may!" sure helped. (Facebook doesn't allow people to sign up until age 13 anyway, but many of our local acquaintances have allowed their kids to sign up earlier using a fake birth year, so Rob has been suffering as many of his friends play Facebook games and talk about being Facebook friends.)

We told Rob that we weren't really sure how to handle social media stuff with him and would have to kind of feel our way through it and make changes as we went along. We started by agreeing that one of the conditions of him having a Facebook account was that he had to be Facebook friends with me so that I could snoop around if I wanted to. We dithered with the idea of having his password, and told him we might change to that later if with time we felt like being friends wasn't enough for us to be comfortable.

I wish, though, that Facebook had a different type of friendship link available for parents and their minor children. Being Facebook friends with Rob means that he sees MY status updates in HIS Facebook stream, and neither of us wants that. And also, it doesn't give me the sort of access/control I want: I want to be able to verify that his privacy settings are appropriate, and I don't want him to be able to block or restrict me from seeing what he posts.

The parent-child friendship link I'm imagining would be one-way: the child's status updates and activities would show up in the parent's Facebook stream, but not the other way around. (Or maybe there could be the option to allow it or not allow it, depending on what the particular parent/child combination preferred.) The parent would have certain limited access to the child's settings---to the privacy settings, for example, but not to the friend requesting/accepting areas or the likes/info editing areas. The child account would not be able to block or restrict the parent account. The whole arrangement would disconnect automatically when the child turned 18; at that point, either the parent or the child could make a regular friend request.

It seems like one of the main problems would be how to make sure the person trying to get Parent Access to someone else's account was actually that person's parent/guardian, and I'm not sure how that could be established. Maybe just by the usual Facebook request format: "X says she is your parent or guardian, and requests parental access to your account," with buttons label "Accept" and "Deny."

It seems to me like this would be a nice compromise between "We're just friends so you can block me" and "Give me your password and therefore get inspired to create a second Facebook account I don't even know about."


Angie said...

You can hide your wall from Rob, which is probably what I would do. I guess part of the ground rules could be that you check his.privacy settings monthly or so? We have a way to go until 13.

Judith said...

I think you're right with that, but I also think it's never going to happen. When parental control is built in like that, kids are far less likely to actually use Facebook. As the user-count is all Facebook cares about (because it directly relates to advertising money and sellable information about user preferences), they are not going to go to great lengths to create a feature that repels their preferred customers – people who know a growing number of people, are likely to engage with games and other things because everyone else is doing it, and are growing up with a far fuzzier idea of what this whole privacy thing is and why it's worth being protected.

I know of a number of people that only allow their children to have an account if their parents have the password (and are disallowed if they change it). if I had kids, I would do it like that as well.

He'll find out (or be told) how to hide you from certain status updates, and the further he enters puberty the more likely he is to use it. And the more likely it will be that things might happen you'll want and need to know about. That includes friends you wouldn't want him to have, weird parties you wouldn't want him to go to, or Facebook bullying he might be on the receiving end of without you knowing about. As long as he doesn't answer to things his friends post on Facebook, they won't turn up on your stream and you won't know about them unless you can take a look from his account.

I know that some people might argue that you having access to his account violates his privacy, but I don't agree. Facebook is no private diary. It is wide open to the rest of the world, and as long as someone is a kid their parents must be able to see this part of their life. You wouldn't allow your child to secretly meet random people under a lonely bridge somewhere either.

Even if Rob is a child where you think it will not be necessary, you don't know how puberty will go, and you don't know if you might feel more like you'll need access with one of the other kids. It's easier to make it part of the ground rules now, and not add it later when it will feel like some kind of punishment.

I hope I don't come over all paranoid, or like you can't trust your child (it's not about that), but I think it's important that parents now what's going on. Kids use Facebook in a very different way from most grownups, and even for us it can be emotionally harmful.

Sara said...

I hate to say it this way because I'm so against invading a childs privacy but I think you have to know his password and actually get on his account from time to time. Otherwise, even being his friend you have no idea what's going on in private messages.

Just saying. :(

I went through Highschool over 10 years ago and was allowed an email account which my parents always had password too and would check frequently as well as my aol messenger and yahoo messenger. I threw a fit at first but mom told me I shouldn't be saying anything to anyone I didn't want her to read...which is right.

Now it's such a bigger picture. It's really not safe anymore to let your kid go all free bird on the internet. It's no longer harmlessishness childsplay. Kids are so set on pretending to be adults anymore...anyway thats what I reccomend.

Heather said...

If Rob goes to his wall and sees a post by you, he can over over the little downwards arrow on the right. There is the option to hide whatever of yours appears on his wall. I use it to hide all the stupid game updates my friends post hourly.

I think you're meant to be 18 to sign up for facebook anyway which is why they dont hae a parental consent system. The only thing I could think is that you're allowed access to his password so you can check settings as regularly as you liked...but that would mean a promise not to read his private messages.

Swistle said...

Heather- No, it's 13.

Ginny said...

I like the idea of your having his password, with negotiated ground rules about what you will and won't read on his account (if there are any boundaries you want to set for yourself). You can make that into another rite of passage: "When you're 18 (or whatever) you get to change your facebook password and I won't know it any more."

Also, if he's as uninterested in reading your status updates as you are in him reading them, he can hide your feed on his end without unfriending you. This might have a slight symbolic Fairness Advantage over you hiding your own posts from him: he's choosing not to read your posts, instead of being blocked by you.

Lynn said...

I think your more-than-a-friend-parent relationship is a great idea. I had email as a teen (which was LONG time ago, the internet was brand new) and my mom completely stayed out of it. I was absolutely responsible with it, but also absolutely a teenage girl and many of my emails were angst-ridden rants about boys I liked and I would have DIED if my mother could have read them.

So being able to check on, say, privacy settings, while still giving your child a sense that their private messages to friends actually are private, would be perfect. I think you should drop Facebook a note and see what they think.

Anonymous said...

I am friends with underage relatives and I have it set up so they are blocked from viewing my status updates, wall photos, AND anything other people write on my wall. I have them on a special friend list and can let them see things from time to time. You should do this for your son so you don't end up on failbook!

I would also say that you should have his password because Facebook does give you the ability to block what certain friends see. So you can friend a parent then hide specific things from them.

Rebecca said...

You can set it up to block your updates from his news feed. I don't know if you can block him from your wall and still be friends, but it's worth checking privacy settings to see what the individual preferences are.

If you feel better having his password, then have his password. He's only 13 and, unfortunately, a lot of kids say pretty rotten things to other kids on Facebook, and you don't want anything of that nature happening either to him or by him.

I don't have my 15-yr old's password, but he IS required to allow me access to any and all social media he uses.

Dr. Maureen said...

This sort of post makes me grateful that by biggest child-raising problem is still just screaming tantrums over nothing. FACEBOOK. Gah. Can I just lock my children up and forbid them access to all social networking and also people? Man. I choose to skip over the teenaged years. Thanks.

Swistle said...

Okay, I have been poking around the extremely frustrating settings menus for half an hour and can't find a way to keep one single person from seeing my updates, except by blocking him each and every time I post anything. Help?

Melanie D. said...

Have Rob go on and "hide" you from his newsfeed. So he hovers in the upper righthand corner of one of your posts in his newsfeed and picks hide all from Swistle.

I think it's absolutely fair to have his password. Tell him that you trust him, but it's a 'just in case' situation. If there would be some sort of problem come up, you could access his account then and even let him know that you are going to if you feel more comfortable that way.

Marian the Librarian said...

Login to your account. Then go to his page. Hover over the box in the upper right corner that says Friends.
You will see the Friends lists you have. One of those should be "Restricted"
Click the Restricted list to add him to a list of people who can not see anything on your FB.
This link might help:

Swistle said...

Marian the Librarian- THANK YOU. That did it!

HereWeGoAJen said...

I have been saying that Facebook needs to come up with this exact policy in the next ten years. My daughter is three now. Maybe you should start some kind of movement and get us all to tell Facebook to get going.

Leeann said...

Ah, Facebook and the many other internet areas that suck in our kids! Just wait til he discovers Tumblr..oy!

I have a 16 and 13 year old on FB. Like you, the 13 year old was granted access on his birthday. He hasn't really done much with it as far as I can tell. For BOTH my kids, I have their passwords (for FB and email) and am friends with them on FB. That's a requirement. I try not to say much about what I see on there though. Lots of bad language but what can you do? My kids do see my statuses (I have hidden a few that are in really bad taste) and will sometimes comment.

The funniest thing that has happened via FB was an old boyfriend of mine (from like ninth grade!) posted a picture of he and I from a Sadie Hawkins dance. My daughter sent him a message "Who are you and how do you know my mother?!"

Of course, I told her that was not appropriate but it still made me laugh. I might be monitoring my kids but she was monitoring me as well! lol

Still Playing School said...

He would have to HIDE your status updates on his feed. You could help him do this while he is logged in.

As far as the parental controls, you once again have a genius idea and I think, "Swistle should be president of the world." <3

Jenn said...

You can also create what is called a "limited profile" that allows you to hide pretty much everything from whoever you want (I always have to google how to do it - but it's pretty easy to find). I use this tool for people like my mother in law, who I am obligated to be facebook friends with but don't want in my business. I can still see everything she posts and she can see pictures I post (which is what I choose to allow her to see - so she can see her grandchild, son, etc....)

It solves things like the "I don't want my mother in law to see me complaining about her on facebook but I need to vent on facebook" dilemna - which I assume is similar to what you are dealing with.....

Shannon said...

That is a great idea. It should just be mandatory that when a 13-17 year old wants to sign up for FB they have to link to an adult account. In theory this would be a parent/guardian. I've had the same concerns myself. Luckily my oldest is only 8 so I have people like you who can pave the way for me!! Yikes! This is hard stuff!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you having his password and being FB friends with him. If he is balking at being "friends" with you, you could suggest an alternative adult/relative for him to be friends with, and have that person keep you posted on his FB goings-on. I am this person for my cousin's teenage son, and have had to call him out on a few things he's said, but it hasn't affected our relationship in the least. And he's never unfriended me either. He knows someone is watching him, but is okay with it as long as it isn't his mother.

marilyn c. cole said...

I think Angie had the right idea in the first comment -- you should have an agreement that you can sporadically (monthly?) check his privacy settings over his shoulder and make sure he's not got you restricted. That should be enough, if you do it randomly, to keep him from having to give you his password.

Does he have an email account, and do you have access to that? I would think of direct messages as similar to email, and personally, would lean away from reading those. It's not like you can read the notes he might write to friends at school, or listen to all his real-life private conversations.

As a geeky type, I'm just really averse to sharing passwords between anyone. Your idea would be the perfect solution to this, but of course, antithetical to FB's core values of making everyone want to be on FB as much as possible. Meh.

(And then in addition to the bullying/gossiping/bad kids worries, there's also this:

Stacie said...

Hmmm...this a dilemma I have had for the past few years. I have a very shy 17 year old that I wasn't too worried about, and didn't have too much interest in Facebook. Now, his 14 year old sister is a completely different story. She wanted an account at 9 and O THE HUMANITY of making her wait. When I finally let her have one, there were a few ground rules: First, the computer was in the living room for all to see, and second, that I would periodically and randomly check (over her shoulder, while we had a dialogue)her privacy settings, friends list, messages and her Wall for things that may have been posted but that I was prevented from seeing. It is not perfect, but for now it is working. There have been a few questionable/inappropriate things that needed to be taken down, but for the most part it is working. I try to show her all the fun games to play and steer her away from the social/gossip/"I'm going to the mall and eating a pretzel" aspect of it...but I think it is only a temporary distraction.

Personally I think 13 is WAY too young to have this much power, but this is the world we live in, here we are, and we have to adapt to it the best we can.

Shalini said...

This is only tangentially related and not at all helpful, but we know someone who made his daughter friend under the account name, "Becky's Dad Is Watching You And Hates You Already."

Nicole said...

I think this is a great idea - for what it's worth, I have my niece and nephew on my limited profile. I can see their updates, but they can't see mine.

Erin H said...

I read through most of the comments and did not see this suggestion, so please forgive me if I'm repeating.

I would as Rob for his password and let him know you plan to check his settings once a month, more if you feel you see anything suspicious. However, I would make this a learning experience and have Rob sit with you while you do it. That way you can talk to him about what changes you are making and why, but also discuss with him anything that looks inappropriate or questionable.

This way he feels like you aren't just snooping around or invading his privacy. He's right there next to you as you do it and it gives you the chance to gauge his reaction, if he doesn't want you to see something you can ask why... if he doesn't seem to answer truthfully you can check it.

I'm so glad I have years to go before I have to deal with this. But I have thought about it and tried to come up with my own gameplan. Good luck!

Suburban Correspondent said...


Also, once a month is not enough. Explain it to the kids this way: THE INTERNET IS NOT A PRIVATE PLACE. (repeat ad nauseam) Because they tend to be more cautious about what they put online if they know you will see it, you are going to be able to access their accounts until you feel comfortable that they understand that THE INTERNET IS NOT A PRIVATE PLACE.

If you are only friends with him, you cannot see his chats, messages, etc. This can be a very bad thing. He needs you to teach him what should and should not be said in a computer chat. Kids (and many grown-ups) do not realize that these chats can be found, if needed, by law enforcement authorities and used in a court of law. Stuff that seems innocuous and stupid is suddenly OUT THERE in the very public eye if one of his friends gets into trouble (case in point: the current trial of the Rutgers University student, as described in the New Yorker last month).

I could go on and on. Be aware, however, that - even with all these precautions - you can have problems. Kids sign up for Facebook under assumed names, for example. I could write a book on this. I have teens.

Anyway, my main point is that it is you paying for the Internet and he needs to understand that you have a right to see ANYTHING that goes on to the Internet that you are paying for. And, also? THE INTERNET IS NOT A PRIVATE PLACE.

End of rant.

Sarah Lena said...

I feel like I am of two totally different minds here.

1) I was ALL OVER THE INTERNET when I was my stepson's age. I had my own email address, I posted on community message boards that my parents didn't even know existed, and I was one of the first of my friends to understand how Chat worked. I did some .. unpleasant things, but I appreciated my freedom online and never really abused it.

2) I have an 11 year old stepson whose mother has been fighting us TOOTH AND NAIL to get a Facebook for since he was 9. He didn't even know what Facebook was until she went to bat for him. (We felt as you do; it's a useful right of passage.) He's now eleven and she is STILL fighting for him to get one (he doesn't really care one way or the other), but .. I don't know. You can only be young and innocent once, you know? Can we not just keep them sheltered for a LITTLE longer?

(Either way - at 13 or 11, we will have his password and will keep on top of his online whereabouts.)

vanessa said...

I work with teens and my advice is to have his password and check in for now--but I in no way think that should be the case until he is 18. Developmentally there is a WORLD of difference between 13 and, say, 16--kids at that age need to have their secrets.

but for now, get his password.

Becca said...

My daughter and eldest boy ask to have facebook account but we have an agreement. I will know their password so that i can monitor who they add and their friends activities.

twisterfish said...

So much to say, so little time....

He is 13: you need his password.

You must also log on to his facebook account when you are signed out of your facebook account -- or ask a friend to do it -- WEEKLY, to see what strangers can see. It's amazing how many kids have their pages and photos public for anyone who logs on.

We had a house rule: I, the MOM, am allowed to look at their page with them sitting at the computer, once a week -- no questions asked. It is public, not a diary, and their safety is my #1 concern. I'd look at friends ("who is this?" etc.... amazing how some young kids friend a cousin of a friend's neighbor just to get their friend numbers up), check what others post on their wall (swear words would be deleted and if a friend did so often, he'd be asked to clean it up or my child would unfriend him).

When the time comes for your children, colleges will look at their facebook pages. Think about that (you may not get much sleep afterward... sorry).

Also, please be careful what pictures are posted. If he is wearing a t-shirt from his school, it takes about 10 minutes to find out the school location, and with the child's name and school info, so many bad things can happen. Online stranger danger is very real.
On that note, you should make a rule that he never posts where he's going to be ("staying after school for basketball" or "parents away tonight... yahoo!").

Molly said...

How about you don't have his password, but he agrees to log you into his account whenever you want? That way he can watch as you browse through his account, so he doesn't feel like you're spying on him without his knowledge. And you'll be able to go in and set his privacy settings/glance over his private messages. If you did it randomly every week or two, he'd know not to get up to anything devious on there.

I will say with the two-facebooks thing -- my cousin did that, had a secret facebook from her parents, and it had gotten really bad when they found it. She'd posted naked photos, had older men writing explicit stuff on her wall, you know the deal. So you're right to consider that possibility. Teenagers are DEVIOUS.

chrissy said...

This isn't helpful to you at all, but my 7 year old's BFF has a FB account and her mom monitors NOTHING. She tried to friend some of my relatives and they all sent me WTH e-mails.

Also, I agree that you should have his password, FWIW. Teenagers are not to be trusted.