Who is teaching your teen how to socialize on Facebook? You or their “frienemies”?

The greatest challenge I have seen teens have with Facebook is understanding that they’re on center stage in the virtual world whenever they comment or post. While teens may feel that they are only communicating with their friends, or are just expressing themselves online, frienemies and strangers alike may be able to see their activity.

To help teens understand this concept, I like to use the metaphor that being on Facebook is like being at the mall where everyone is watching each other. This idea that everyone is observing each other’s online activity is difficult for teens to grasp because it feels as though they are safe at home when Facebooking and can therefore express anything.

How Does Facebook Work?

Follow these links to learn how to use it properly:

Facebook 101 for Parents

Facebook Relationship Manners–fun to share with your teen!

10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

In person, teens will edit what they say to people because you have taught them to filter their behavior to make it situation-appropriate. Social media, on the other hand, eliminates the pressure of social context and teens may begin experimenting with saying things on their Facebook wall or posting comments they would never make in person.

Add to this mix a teen’s naturally impulsive nature, one that lacks an ability to make future projections based on past or present actions, and you get some very uncomfortable results. For example, teens often post pictures to experiment with promoting an identity that may not accurately reflect who they are, but what they perceive to be cool at the time. These images might portray them in a light they’ll later regret. They might also make statements to other people that are damaging and hurtful or expose themselves in a vulnerable light–things they would never do in person. This lack of a social filter when using technology can create difficult growing pains for teenagers.

The other twist to this situation is that teens don’t always understand how Facebook functions. For instance, what they intend to only be shared with their friends can easily become available to an audience they never intended because they don’t have the proper settings on their account. And off-handed comments or wall posts can create lasting damage to relationships or cause later embarassment for both parties depending on who else sees the thread. Teens need to know what and with whom they are sharing in their online life. Unfortunately, learning the technical ins and outs of Facebook’s privacy settings requires a learning curve for most people.

I don’t think these are reasons to keep teens off of Facebook, however. Instead, I think there is an opportunity for you to be actively engaged in your teen’s virtual social life, through monitoring their use and having ongoing discussions about their Facebook experience. You can determine the intensity of your involvement by observing how effective their online social filter is. Don’t be surprised if they aren’t sharing appropriately online even if you have taught them for years how to socialize properly in face-to-face situations.

They need to understand that socializing on the internet is no different than it is in the real world so long as they know how to create comparable filters by using Facebook’s settings. I encourage you to get involved so you can teach your teen some social media etiquette, even if you feel you are not yet versed in the internet world. Teens need your guidance to navigate Facebook. If you don’t offer it, you are leaving other teens to do the teaching.

To help you start the conversation, I’ve created a cheat sheet of the six discussions every parent should have with their teen about their virtual life.

Six discussions to have with your teen about Facebook.

Start the discussion by asking to see your teen’s Facebook and learning who their friends are. Ask in a way that shows you are open-minded and will withhold judgment. Be sure your tone is fun and doesn’t seem demanding or punitive. Once your teen seems comfortable with your presence in their online world, ask the questions that will help you both learn more about how Facebook functions. If your teen has not started Facebook yet, thats even better. Start together and learn together, and consider knowing their password so you can moniter activity.

1. Do you know how your teen determines who to be friends with on Facebook and how they differentiate between an online and an in-person friend?
Ask: How do you decide who can be your friend in real life vs. online? Do you have any Frienemies ( A person accepted to view their Facebook page who often says hurtful or unsupportive things.)?

2.Teens often take risks in how they express themselves on Facebook.
Ask: How do you decide what you are going to share on Facebook. Is it the same as what you would share in person? Have you ever regretted making a statement online or putting up a picture?

3. Your teen may be experimenting with their self-portrayal online.
Ask: What is the image of yourself that you are trying to portray online? Is your online self-portrayal different from who you are at school? What do you think people understand about you from what you say or from the pictures you post?

4. Teens frequently share links and photos that they like, often without thinking about who will see them.
Ask: What images or videos do people share online that you like and why? Are there people who share things online that make you not want to be their friend in real life?

5. Teens may be more likely to say hurtful or vulnerable things online than in person due to a perceived safety or because they are unaware of who will see it. They may also be hurt by something on someone else’s wall.
Ask: Have you ever been bullied online? Have you ever seen someone else bullied online? Have you participated in online bullying? What did you think of that? Why did you choose to participate?

6. It’s not uncommon for a teen to have hundreds of Facebook friends.
Ask: Do you feel closer to people online or in person? Are you more enriched by your real life friendships and what you share in person or by what you share online?

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