Online Etiquette for Parents   by Brian Housman

One of the greatest fears for a teenager is that they would be embarrassed by a parent in public. I remember not wanting to walk with my mom through the mall for fear that one of my friends would walk up and hear words tumble out of my mom’s mouth that would make my eyes roll back in my head. With Facebook’s 1.2 billion members and Instagram’s 200 million members, social networks are the malls of the new millennium. This also means they are the new places where typical teens break out in beads of sweat when they see that their parents have joined.

There is nothing wrong with parents being on Facebook. I think we should be there. It’s a public forum and a great way to keep up with what is happening in society. There’s also nothing wrong with parents liking, poking, or being friends with their teens on Facebook. As a matter of personal opinion, I think you absolutely should. But being your teen’s friend online is much like being a carpool parent.

You hear conversations and comments without responding to every giggle or punch. You know that the knowledge you gain by observing far outweighs the benefit of jumping in yourself. The same principle applies when living online with your teen.

Here are four destructive actions to stay away from.

1. Never post potentially embarrassing photos of them, or you.

Too often parents post pictures they think are oh-too-cute of their son’s first bath or daughter dressed like an Oompa Loompa from her third grade play. And after all the time you spent training your teen not to share inappropriate photos of herself online, don’t blow it by doing just the opposite yourself. The muscle-flexing shot of you on the beach last summer is out of the question. You might think it’s cool or funny, but your teen might disown you.

2. Keep your comments to a minimum.

Occasional comments on your teen’s profile are fine, but keep them short and sweet. And don’t comment on everything they post. Give them space online away from you.

3. No lecturing online.

Let’s just assume that your teen is going to be like most and at some point in time is going to post or say something online that they shouldn’t. Don’t confront them online, unless your goal is to isolate and ridicule. Instead, talk about it in person. Remind them of the boundaries you both discussed before you allowed her to be on Facebook.

4. Keep the friend circle tight.

While you certainly should “friend” your teen on social media, your goal is not to be friends with every one of her friends. She needs space to interact without you being a part of every conversation. Likewise, please, please don’t send friend requests to her friends. It can look creepy and inappropriate. If one of your child’s soccer buddies or church friends sends you a friend request, you should tell your teen before accepting. Otherwise, he will feel like you are encroaching on his territory.

You are going to learn things about your child that maybe she hasn’t shared with you yet. As long as she is exhibiting good choices online, there is no need for you to respond to everything you see and hear. She needs the space from you, within reason, to create a canvas of herself online. Let her be herself and consider it a privilege that she welcomes you to be a part of the experience.

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