facebook Apparently Facebook is making strides to allow kids under 13 to be allowed on Facebook.  For a long time kids have not been allowed on social networks due to the federal laws in place.  But it seems that Facebook is hoping to open up their networks to children with the permission of parents.  It hasn't been revealed what the requirements will be between a parent's account and a kids account on Facebook, but the new possibility certainly has significant implications for parenting in the internet age.  Because of this new possibility, I am both excited about what it means for me as a middle school minister and nervous because of the reality of what this opens up these young kids to.  Regardless of the age of students, whether 11 years old or 16 years old, there are certain steps that parents can take to be helping kids as they navigate the world of social networking.

Parents should monitor their kids accounts.

Parents should know passwords and be able to log in and look at who you are talking to, who you are adding as a friend, and what you are posting on other people's walls.  While I'm sure your kids don't like you snooping around to find stuff on them, it will make things much easier if it's expected right from the beginning that you will be looking at their account periodically.  This is not to be nosy and find out who likes who; it's to help teach them what's allowed online.  I would hope and expect that if Facebook makes steps for a way for kids to have face books, that it will allow parents to use their Facebook accounts to view this same information.

Parents and kids should be talking about their digital footprint.

Everything that your kids post online will potentially be online forever.  If they posts pictures that aren't appropriate, they can spread like wildfire.  If they write something awful about a teacher, their principal will find out.  The things that they write online will have significant implications for them offline.  If they bully somebody on Facebook, it's going to hurt their relationships in real life.  Never before did teens have to worry about having a digital footprint, but the truth is that it a necessary conversation that should be taking place in homes.

Kids should learn what's appropriate online behaviors.

The internet makes it very easy to try out different behaviors that you might not be able to get a way with when people are actually around. This is why you'll read the posts of kids that use language that you've never heard come out of their mouth before.  The internet makes them feel like they can act differently and it's "safe" for them to do so.  If you are monitoring your kids accounts, you can help them navigate what's appropriate and inappropriate.  Trying out new behaviors is a normal practice for kids in the 12 to 14 age, but when their trying out behaviors that are not acceptable, it's good to do something about it.  You are significantly helping kids when you encourage them to see that their online presence should reflect their real life presence.  Teach them to be the same person in church, in school, at home, and on Facebook.  That's a huge challenge for everyone, not just kids, but if they can learn this now it will be far easier than trying to teach a 40 year old what's appropriate for posting on the internet.

Kids should know the dangers of online predators.

The Internet can be a dangerous place.  It is full of people who try to do evil things.  There is no young kid that's going to want to talk about this, and they will certainly grumble, "I know, I know" every time you bring it up.  But the reality is that kids need to know about these dangers as they begin interacting with their friends online and are potentially opened up to friend request from strangers.  Your kids need to know what makes it dangerous to talk with strangers online (just like they needed to know strangers were dangerous as a kid), and you need to know who they are talking to online.

If you're a parent what steps do you take to help protect your kids online?  If you're familiar with social networking, what other tips might you offer to parents whose kids want to be on Facebook?