How to monitor your child on Facebook
If you have recently given in and said yes to your child having a Facebook account, then you can take some comfort from the fact that you're not alone. Millions of teens and even younger kids have managed to convince their parents that they are smart enough to safely navigate their way around the popular social network.
But whatever your child's level of maturity, there is always an element of concern when it comes to Facebook. Maybe it’s an older friend that you’re not quite sure about; maybe it’s those embarrassing poll questions that have suddenly become so popular; or maybe the photos are starting to get a little riskier. Whatever the reason, it’s time for you to keep a close eye on things and make sure your child doesn’t do something that everyone will regret.
When it comes to monitoring your child’s Facebook account, you have several options, some of which are better than others. Here’s a quick look at the various choices:
Logging on to your child’s account
Occasionally logging on to your child’s Facebook account using their e-mail and password is by far the best method of monitoring your child’s social networking activity. Not only will you be able to see their entire profile information, check their privacy settings, and monitor their posts, photos and videos, but you will also be able to see their message activity, which can be far more revealing than anything that’s posted on their News Feed.
Having access to your child’s log in e-mail and password entails a great deal of trust on both sides. While it may be easy for you to insist on this information when your child first sets-up an account, it’s not quite so easy when they are 14 or 15 years-old and are demanding some privacy. Unfortunately, that is also the age at which they are most likely to do something inappropriate.
If you are lucky enough to have your child’s log in information, use it wisely. As they get older, avoid commenting on everything you see. If you come across something you don’t approve of, ask yourself whether it really matters or whether it’s just teens being teens. The less they remember you have their password, the less likely they are to change it!
Friending your child
Having your own Facebook account and “friending” your child is the next best thing to being able to log on to their account. You will receive notifications whenever they add a friend, and you will also have access to their entire friend list.
You will also see their posts and photos, but only the ones they want you to see. Facebook has recently made it easy for users to pick and choose who sees their posts and photo albums. If you have doubts whether you are getting all of your child’s updates, it may be worth clicking around a few of their close friends. If they haven’t adjusted their default privacy settings, then you should be able to look at the friends’ News Feeds and see if there is anything from your child that you haven’t seen before.
Unfortunately, if your child is already excluding you from posts and photos, then you may have a hard time persuading them to make a change. A good alternative is to have an older cousin or favorite aunt friend your child and have them monitor the account for you. Again, discretion is the key. Most older kids regard their Facebook activity as highly personal and you should only call them out if you have a very good reason.
Installing monitoring software
If you don’t know your way around Facebook or you don’t want to set up your own Facebook account, then you can install monitoring software. There are several excellent monitoring programs to choose from and most of them use a variation of “red flag” reporting, i.e. the programs look for posts or activity that might indicate a potential problem. For example:
- Posts and messages are analyzed for certain key words or phrases that might indicate bullying, drug or alcohol use, sexual activity, eating disorders, etc.
- All posts which mention your child’s name are copied for you to review.
- New friends are flagged if they have a low number of mutual friends or if they are over a certain age limit.
- Photos posted by your child or photos in which your child is tagged are copied to a local gallery for review.
Most of these monitoring programs require your child’s log in and password to be able to gain access to their account. There is no attempt to hide the monitoring; in fact, most of them require sending an e-mail to your child so he or she can authorize access directly. If that sounds like an unlikely proposition, then you can always make a trade-off: it’s either remote monitoring or you will open an account and start tagging them in some of those old baby photos!
Some of the recommended Facebook monitoring programs include SocialGuard, MinorMonitor, SocialShield and TrueCare.
If you believe your child is seriously at risk and he or she will not allow you any kind of access to their social networking activity, then there are numerous key-logging programs which can be installed on your child’s computer and which will allow you to capture Facebook log ins and passwords. But keep in mind that at this point, trust has largely broken down; you are no longer monitoring, you are spying.
Whatever method you choose to monitor your child’s Facebook account, make sure you stay on top of his or her activity, particularly in those middle and early high school years, when the urge to experiment and take risks often outweighs common sense. A little effort now can save a lot of heartache later!