What is Facebook?

Remember at school, as a ‘get to know you’ activity your teacher asked you to design a poster about your self? You were allowed to design it and include facts about you. We used coloured pencils and textas, pasted on photos, stuck pictures of our favourite pop stars, sporting heroes, clothes, and cars. (defining yourself was as simple as saying that you liked Skyhooks or Sherbet or Abba or U2!) We knew the teacher was going to read them so we were careful. We didn’t swear or say that we smoked but I bet some of us did!

The posters ended up on the pinboard at the back of the room. Sometimes we cringed to think that our lives were exposed to the rest of the school. Sometimes students from other classes would write comments on them – often unflattering ones – when the teacher wasn’t looking or draw moustaches on the girls and glasses on the boys.

Well the first part of Facebook is not dissimilar. Teens write about their likes and dislikes, sometimes write a blurb about the sort of person they are, use decorations from the site and they can also upload music video clips, and photos, write messages (posts) about how they feel or what they are doing at the present moment, comment on their friends posts, and send messages.

The difference between Facebook and our posters is that teens can chose who sees their Facebook pages and who can comment. Comments can only be made and seen by friends if they set their security preferences well. The teen adds ‘friends’ to her site and can delete or block ‘friends’. ‘Friends’ are sometimes people who can be defined in the traditional way but often are ‘people they know through others’ or ‘people who go to the same school’ or ‘people who request to b e made a friend and who they don’t know’ (most concerning). There is a complex set of security settings that allows the site to be quite private but teens often overlook this. This is recommended to under 18s and then only your teen’s chosen friends can ‘go inside’.

It is still possible for someone to ‘send a message’ to your teen from outside their site. A message is different from a comment – more like an email. A message can only seen by the owner of the site. If the teen doesn’t know the messenger then they ignore them. If they do know them, maybe it is an old friend from primary, they may choose to add them to their list thereby inviting them to see their site.

There is nothing wrong per se with Facebook. It provides teens with a safe, creative and fun space to display ‘who they are’, they can change ‘who they are’ as they grow and they can write and read comments to and from their friends thereby keeping in touch with friends outside of the school setting.  They can also share photos, and music.

There are some potential dangers and your teen and you need to know what they are and how to guard against them:

  1. Set all profile options to ‘Friends Only’;
  2. Choose a photo of yourself that does not have a provocative look, in fact many teens choose a photo that does not show their face;
  3. Do not add anyone you do not know;
  4. Do not respond to any messages from Facebookers you don’t know;
  5. Don’t include personal details like phone numbers, school, etc.

Okay – Are you ready to join?

  1. To avoid World War 3 it would be reasonable to let your teen know you are about to;
  2. Go to www.facebook.com;
  3. Join up;
  4. Once you have your password, log on;
  5. Go to search in the menu bar;
  6. Enter your son or daughter’s full name in the Find a Friend box;
  7. On the next page on the right hand side if it is a common name you need to ask to show only those from Australia;
  8. If your daughter/son has a Facebook page their photo will come up. If they don’t see below*;
  9. Click on the photo;
  10. That may be is as far as you will get because they have set their profile to private;
  11. If not you may be able to see, read and listen to their profile, look at their friends, and read their comments.

*It may be that now is the time for you to introduce them to Facebook BEFORE they are introduced to it by their peers. (they must be 13 or over to join). This gives you time to show them what they can do, how to set the security settings and to talk about what is appropriate to include in their profile.