Thursday, May 31, 2012

The (Face)book has been opened.

I knew it was coming, I knew it was inevitable, I guess I just never thought it would happen this soon.

My youngest bonus daughter got a Facebook account.

And she's 11.

(Hold on, I've gotta go hyperventilate.)

I'm no prude. I've let my bonus daughters watch R-rated movies, we've talked about sex, we've told naughty jokes. We fart in front of each other. But this is different. This is Facebook. This is millions of people having access to a naive child who has no true understanding of the power of social media and how it can affect her now or in the so very distant future - which by the way, isn't really that distant.

Believe me, I never would have signed her up at this age. In fact, Facebook itself states that below the age of 13 is too young. But Mama Ex made an executive decision (without consulting the other, equally important executive, otherwise known as my husband and her child's father) and signed her up anyway.

Look, Facebook can be fun. For an 11 year old, it basically means getting to post pictures of friends and talking to them virtually over the summer. I would have wanted it at that age, too. But wanting something and needing something are two very different prospects. When I was 13, I really, really, really wanted to date a guy that was 18 that worked as a server at Perkins. We had SO MUCH IN COMMON (like, ya know, we both enjoyed playing Monopoly) and I just knew he was going to marry me someday. Did my parents let me date him? Um, no. BECAUSE IT WAS DANGEROUS...and also super creepy.

In a few weeks my husband and I are taking Mama Ex to court to sort through all kinds of issues (least of which is Facebook), and I imagine we'll figure all of this out at that time. Until then, there isn't a lot we can do. But I wanted to share my thoughts on how to handle a Facebook account if you are thinking of getting it for your stepchild. I'm no expert, but these just seem logical.

1. Do Your Homework

Don't worry. I'm here to personally assure you that Facebook has tons of already built in features that will keep your kid totally invisible from the outside world. If your kid is under 13, he/she is totally safe.

I really hope you didn't just believe that. Seriously, if you're signing your child up for Facebook, go out there and use that awesome thing called the Internet to research settings and tools to keep your kids safe while using that awesome thing called the Internet. Double check the settings on your child's page to make sure they're correct. Here are a few links to sites (including Facebook's own) that cover this type of information.

2. Know the Code.

Your step child's account to Facebook has an email address and a password. In my opinion, your husband should know both of them and if he chooses to share that information with you, great. After all, this is a child (biologically yours or not) living under your roof, using your computer and your Internet connection. And you love this child. You want to protect them and make sure they're safe.

You and your husband have every right to see what they're doing online. At any time.

I get that it seems like you're invading their privacy, but really, it's time to get over that. Do you really think my mom respected my journal's DO NOT READ THIS OR I'LL FIND YOU AND RIP YOUR HAIR OUT sticker? No. How else do you think they found out about that Perkins waiter? I'm not saying you need to get in your step kid's account and snoop every day - but it is important to know you have access if you suspect something amiss. This is especially true for a younger child. Once they're 15 or 16, maybe reconsider if they've shown that they can handle an account sensibly.

I will say this. As a step parent, you might consider letting the biological father be the one to bring up issues if something inappropriate is discovered. Yes, you are a parental figure, but they only have one father and one true mother. Should you find something suspicious, I'd suggest telling it to your husband and letting him lead the charge in doing something about it. That doesn't mean you have to sit in the corner with your hands tied and tape across your mouth. You have input and you should share it. Just let Dad talk first and establish his role as a parent.

3. Edit Thyself.

If your step kid has a FB account, chances are, you are one of the 27 people they actually know. They're probably going to "friend" you. Before you accept the request, remember to edit out photos of you dancing on table tops from your bachelorette party. Or at the very least double check your settings to make certain your child can't see those slightly less than "Step Mom of the Year" photos of you.

If you're like me and have a tendency to pen status updates about how excited you are to be reading that really smutty "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy, re-think letting your step child have access to your status updates as well. It may seem strange to them that all they can see is your name, your marital status and your graduation information, but tough. You are an adult and they are not. There are parts of your life that are not for their viewing or knowing. Just because your step child's life on FB is beginning, doesn't mean yours has to end. Be smart about how much you share.

4. Kids are Smarter Than You

So you want to put up a status about how ridiculously hung over you were on Sunday night after the super awesome wedding. And you even went so far as to block that particular status from your stepchild's account so as to not show her inappropriate material. Good for you.

You didn't do enough.

Your kid still has access to your account through mutual friends. For example, let's say Stepdaughter Mary goes to her friend Larua's house on Saturday afternoon. They get on Facebook together.  Laura pulls up her Facebook account. Laura is friends with you. You forgot to block that hangover status update from Laura. Now Laura and Stepdaughter Mary have both seen your status and know you had a terrible hangover and THAT's why you wouldn't take them to the pool.  


This same concept goes for photos, comments on other people's pages...the list goes on. I know the horse died some time ago, but you MUST CHECK YOUR SETTINGS AND YOUR POSTS.

5. Kids are Mean- Just Like Adults

Remember that time when your best friend and your best friend's mother's hair stylist got in a Facebook war about legalizing gay marriage? Remember how mean they were to each other? Remember how they're ADULTS and still fighting like teenagers?  Now imagine what it's like to be an actual teenager and having the desire to pick a fight.
Kids can be mean. And judgmental. And racist. And filthy.

Once again, it's your responsibility (especially if you're allowing a younger child access to Facebook) to be sure your step child understands the implications of fighting/flirting/bullying online. Sit down with your stepchild and his/her father and have a conversation about what kind of behavior you expect them to exhibit on Facebook. Let them know that bullying and name calling are unacceptable. You are allowing them to have this very adult tool at their fingertips and you expect them to use it as such. If they can't, it goes away. Simple as that.

The truth is, how a child acts with social media as a teen will directly affect how they use it as an adult. If you have the talk now explaining discretion regarding posts, photos and comments, that information will travel through to adulthood. Eventually your children and step children will be dealing with sites like Linked In. If they're prepared for it with proper instruction, it will help them immensely, and make them stand out from the crowd.

The most important thing to remember about Facebook is this: it can open a lot of doors and be a lot of fun if it's done right. Respect the rules, keep an eye on things and maintain the conversation all the time. Share examples of when you've seen people misuse Facebook. Ask your step child to share an example of what she thinks is inappropriate behavior. Ask questions. Ask them again. At some point, your step child is going to come across an online situation where they have to make a choice, and you won't be there to tell them what to do. If you do your job beforehand, you can rest assured they'll make the right one.

What tips do you have for other parents whose step children have been given Facebook accounts?