Have You Checked Your Teen's Facebook Privacy Settings?
Facebook has been making changes to privacy settings over the past few months. Things that were once totally private are now automatically public and viewable to anyone who comes across your profile. Or, more importantly, those things are viewable to anyone who comes across your teen's profile. It can be hard to keep up with what you can be doing to best help keep your child's online profile as safe as possible. The good news is that Facebook now addresses the topic of teen safety on the site in a great FAQ.
While I think the idea of a principal telling parents to get their kids completely off Facebook (and every other social networking site) is taking it too far, I do think that you need to know what your child is posting online and how that is being viewed by the Internet-browsing public. The truth of the matter is that college admissions offices, employers and potential partners are making a regular habit of Googling people before offering them a spot in their class, their office or their heart. Whether this is good or bad practice is hardly the argument. It's happening and as a parent you need to make sure your teens are aware of it and what the consequences might be if they are not properly protecting their information (and embarrassing photos).
Do the following for me. Log out of your Facebook account. Now visit your child's Facebook account. What is viewable to the public at large? Is it much more than you thought? Are you kind of freaked out? (Are you now going over to your profile address to see what you are unknowingly sharing as well? Good idea. Potential/current employers and even your kids' friends' parents Google you, too!)
Facebook now makes certain information available automatically. (Your friends and any page you have ever "liked" is now public material.) What you can control, however, is how far your photos can be viewed. You can limit how far pictures and your status updates go by visiting Account > Privacy Settings > Friends, Tags and Connections. You should have everything you don't want to be public consumption listed as Only Friends. Even making something viewable to Friends of Friends puts you at risk as if someone likes your photo, one of their friends can click through to that photo even if they are not on your friends' list. Go through all of the options on that particular tab, Contact Information and Personal Information and Posts and set the majority to the Only Friends option.
The good news is that if your child is under 18, they don't automatically show up in public search engines if someone Googles your child's name. However, their profiles are still accessible via Facebook search to anyone who is a friend of a friend or within your child's network. If you would prefer that your teen avoid any searches, visit Account > Privacy Settings > Search. Make the Facebook Search Results "Only Friends" in the pull down menu.Deselect the check box next to Public Search Results.
Two important settings would be the ones related to photos. Even pictures that your child may think are harmless could be used against him or for other, not-so-great purposes. As such, make sure that your teen's photos that he/she uploads are viewable to friends only (Account > Privacy Settings > Personal Information and Posts > Photos and then set each album individually) and make sure that photos in which another Facebook user tags your teen are friends only, too (Account > Privacy Settings > Friends, Tags and Connections and then set Photos and Videos of Me to Only Friends). I have found that my most embarrassing photos were not the ones that I added of myself but ones that my friends from college uploaded in a fit of scanning humor. Also teach your child that if they are tagged in a picture that they do not like, they can simply click on Remove Tag to get the offending picture off of their own profile. The picture will still exist but it won't be linked directly to your teen's profile!
One of the most important conversations to have with your child, whatever their privacy settings on any social networking site is this: don't put anything online that you don't want discovered. The truth is that privacy settings can change (as they have changed frequently at Facebook as of late) or hacked and information that you have shared online could suddenly be public. Remind them to be smart about what they share, photo or information wise. Discuss what you do and do not want them to share (address, phone number, a play-by-play of where they will be at any given time). Tell them to come to you if they experience something that makes them uncomfortable online (or off), whether that's a picture of them that has surfaced or someone scary contacting them via messaging or in person.
For other great posts on Facebook privacy settings and your teens, read:
- Facebook Privacy Settings to Keep Teens Safe.
- Facebook offers security tips for teens, parents.
- Social Networking Tips for Teens.
Do you have any advice about keeping your teen's profile safe? Do you have any Facebook privacy questions for me? Feel free to ask!
Jenna Hatfield, aka @FireMom on twitter, also writes at Stop, Drop & Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. When she's not wasting time on Facebook, she works as a freelance writer and editor. She also works as a newspaper photographer.