I recently gave a presentation to middle school parents about Facebook. The goal of the evening was to get parents on Facebook to show them how to sign up, how to set privacy settings, how it works, and why someone would use it. The ultimate goal of the evening was to give parents the tools necessary to have informed discussions with their children about Facebook. The night was a success. I had about 20 parents attend and, though some parents could not get on (because of the confirmation email problem), they all engaged in conversation around middle schoolers and Facebook. Out of the 20, only 2 parents had existing Facebook accounts – and the range of the other parents varied from no interest in online social networking, to conservative Internet use, to full embrace of the Internet.
One of the issues that came up was, what is the appropriate age for kids to join Facebook? There seems to be plenty of sixth graders who are on Facebook right now even though the TOS requires kids to be 13 years old. I like to adhere to the TOS as a good model especially for students who are often tempted to misrepresent themselves online. Though I am no expert on the middle school aged brain, I tend to think 11 and 12 year-olds are too young to fully understand the complexities of online socializing; they have a hard enough time face-to-face. To me, 13 seems young enough.
The other issue that came up was, should you friend your child? People seem to be split on this one. I think kids need their own place to socialize. I equate friending them with sitting in the room with a bunch of kids – the dynamic of the situation changes. Now that we are teaching kids how to set their security settings and using groups to filter news, parents may not be able to see as much as they want to see. I don’t think parents should get a Facebook account to spy on their kids; I think parents should get accounts to understand the medium and they just might find it useful in their lives.
There is a lot more to talk about and I am excited that our Middle School Director has decided to make technology a “theme” for next year for parents, faculty, and students. We will be working together with our school psychologist to really take a look at technology and how it fits (or doesn’t fit) into a middle school brain. Parents already seem more at ease now that they know we are talking about technology and that we have already begun to plan for workshops and parent evenings next year. We have started a Facebook page for our parents and we encourage parents to follow us on Twitter. This is just the beginning of a conversation that I hope will enrich all who take part in it. When it comes to social networking and technology, we need to educate our students (and our faculty) as well as our parents in order to have full success.
I have embedded the slideshow I used with parents below – please take what you need from it.