Do you secretly monitor your kid’s Facebook account?

My eldest is almost the magic age of 13 and plans on opening a Facebook account at the stroke of midnight. I have agreed and we are now in the process of reviewing rules and expectations. Thankfully, due to my relentless privacy discussions, she has a pretty good idea about what not to share online. The question now is how much is she going to have to share with me?

When I asked my friends about going on Facebook, most of them either required their kids to friend them or to share their password. In either situation, the kids were usually fully aware of their parents monitoring them. For this reason, the results of a recent survey by AVG surprised me. AVG found that 60% of US parents with kids,14 to 17 years old, secretly logged on to their kid’s Facebook accounts.

I am not surprised by parents monitoring their kids Facebook use. Most parents realize kids need private places to hang out. The problem is hanging out online may feel private but it is not. With future colleges, scholarship committees, coaches, employers, and roommates visiting their Facebook page, it is no wonder parents want to check.

It is the secret part that is troubling. Now, I can see the advantage. Kids over 12 are the account holders. On Facebook, only the account holders can accept friend requests, change passwords, remove posts or delete their account. Secretly monitoring gives parents total access without have to rely on a kid not defriending them or changing a password. Plus, logging on to their account allows parents to see everything including chat messages.

The problem with secretly monitoring is the missed parenting opportunities. It is hard to talk about something you were not supposed to have seen. What do you say? “Please pass the peas, and just FYI it is never a good idea to discuss bra size on Facebook chat.”  If they find out, an angry teen may become secretive about their online activities and choose methods to exclude all parental involvement. However a parent chooses to monitor, they need to include opportunities for both oversight and guidance.

Currently, we are working on our family’s Facebook plan. We are starting with a learner’s permit. I am not and she is not ready for me to hand over the keys and wave goodbye – yet. Initially, she will have to friend me with a limit on the number of people she can friend. In turn, I will be a silent online observer with all mentoring happening offline. Eventually, she will be able to take the wheel and shuffle me off to a “family” list. I hope by then, she will be a smart, safe and capable online driver. (I will keep you posted.)

Before handing over the keys, several organizations have developed some great tools to help parents mentor their kid’s Facebook use: Facebook has a page for parents on managing accounts, Connect Safely has written a Parent’s Guide to Facebook and Commonsense Media has curriculum for schools that parents could adapt for use at home.