What to do when your teen wants to open a Facebook account

Whether you're a novice or native on social media, the game changes when your teen asks to start using Facebook, Instagram, and the like. Here are some ways to make sure your kid stays safe online.

There are plenty of reasons Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks have a minimum age limit. Here's just one: Children aren't born with internal privacy settings.

Just ask my 2-year-old and 5-year-old who can frequently be found running around our house in nothing but their underwear. The tricky part for parents is making sure that their sense of privacy has kicked in by the time they do log on to social networks for the first time.


Moms and Dads can't assume teens know what they should and shouldn't share online. And just because children meet the minimum age requirement (for Facebook, it's age 13), that doesn't mean they should rush to create an account. Colby Zintl of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit family and children's advocacy group, said kids are probably better equipped to deal with the not-always-kid-friendly content and situations found on social networks when they're 14 or 15.

Once everyone's in agreement about when to get online, parents should show kids how to go about it. Walk them through the privacy settings. Show them how to unfriend people and delete posts. Make sure that only their friends can view their profile.

Zintl suggested that parents activate the setting that allows kids to approve all posts before they're added to their timeline. "Talk to your child about the importance of that," Zintl said. "It relates to the concept of a digital footprint -- everything is permanent. If a child is going to post on your child's wall, there should be some barrier to entry there."

The current generation of kids are growing up as digital natives, so they're often comfortable with social media, but they still need to be careful. And thanks to proud parents and grandparents, their lives are probably well-documented. Said Zintl: "Parents posting pictures of their babies starts a kid's digital footprint for their entire life. They're creating a lifetime of photos and history online."

Common Sense Media urges parents to emphasize to kids that the Internet is written with a permanent Sharpie, not pencil. "Once a photo, or a comment, is out in cyberspace, there is no getting it back. Even if you take it down from Facebook, another kid could have forwarded it," Zintl said. "There is no such thing as a real eraser button in social media, and that is an important reminder to share with kids over and over again."

For more parenting tips on how to help kids navigate social networks, including how to handle passwords, watch the video.

About the author

    Sumi Das has been covering technology since the original dot-com boom. She was hired by cable network TechTV in 1998 to produce and host a half-hour program devoted to new and future technologies. Prior to CNET, Sumi served as a Washington DC-based correspondent, covering breaking news for CNN. She reported live from New Orleans and contributed to CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which earned the network a Peabody Award. She also files in-depth tech stories for BBC News which are seen by a primarily international audience.


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