Last month in Driving Online Without a License, I shared the research project that my 13 year old daughter was required to complete in order to open her own Facebook account. Along with the successful completion of the project, there were guidelines, or online rules, in which she was to follow. All went well at first. She was thrilled to have her project accepted and willing to abide by the rules. However, I had no idea how many more expectations needed to be in place.
One guideline I set for Facebook was to limit the number of friends she accepted. She was o.k. with this regulation. She felt that friend collecting was a ridiculous attempt to look popular. Agreed. So, we established that she should limit her accepted friend requests to those that came from real friends. I was content that we were in accord—mother and teen daughter in harmony, a blessing.
Her list of friends has increased to the count of 224. It is difficult for me to believe that she knows this many people. However, I failed to define what “knowing” really means. And I failed to establish a number limit which I now think should be 50.
50 friends are plenty to network with when one is 13 years old. Management of who sees what can be overwhelming. I do not feel my daughter needs to be placed in a situation where she is no longer in control of who has access to her personal thoughts and information--material that can be re-shared by people she knows not well enough to trust, communication that can be misconstrued to mean something other than what was intended.
I also chose not to set an age limit on friends because there are adults I feel that are o.k. on Facebook, like parents of friends, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. However, one day I was spot-checking her computer (a task I will go over in a future blog post) and noticed that displayed in her messages was a profile picture of a young man that looked older than her typical friends. He looked like someone in high school. I think it was the fact that he had his arm wrapped around this year’s Homecoming Queen.
I do not usually read her messages. I feel that would be an invasion of privacy. I simply look down the row of profile photos displayed in the inbox to see with whom she’s been interacting. But this one I read.
The message was innocent from the point of view of a 13 year old. From the point of view of the mother of a 13 year old girl it was manipulative. And he gave her his number—just in case she "ever wanted to talk."
I was so mad. Mad at him. Mostly mad at myself for not setting a boundary that needed to be set: No private communication with anyone more than two years older.
Communicating with my daughter about this was tricky. I had to tell her I read the message. Whoa, the anger she displayed. But, I understood. I imagine she thought I read all of her messages.
I had to explain that a senior in high school should not be privately communicating with a 13 year old female. The dangers of girls with older boys are real. She heard, “You were wrong for communicating with him and he is the Big Bad Wolf.”
By the end of the conversation, which to me felt like was happening in slow motion, she understood that she did nothing wrong. The guideline for the age limit of who she has private communication with was set. But I could have avoided causing her to feel as if she had done something wrong by setting the age restriction earlier—before she got onto Facebook. I feel badly that my oversight caused her pain.
That evening she posted as a status update something like I hate 8th Grade. I assume it was due to how she was feeling about our conversation, the new Facebook rule, or how difficult it is to grow up. I was not alarmed by her update.
Because it didn’t say, “I hate 8th grade and my mom is mean and I can no longer privately speak to John Doe.” So, the research project complete with presentations and discussions about appropriate online behavior has worked. But I’m definitely a rookie mom at this. I am new to navigating as a rule maker and protector of my daughter through the world of social media—a place she needs to be in order to socialize, and a place I want her to be while she is at home, in my care, and receiving my support.
She has taken a one month sabbatical from Facebook because she has the lead in the school musical and wants no distractions as she prepares. I am the one that shared the article that suggests a social media break as a New Year’s resolution, but it was her decision to remove it from her plate. To show my support, I too am on a one month sabbatical from Facebook.
When we return, I plan to assist her in organizing her 224 friends into lists and possibly cutting the number down to 50. This will teach her more about navigating Facebook appropriately and will offer me an opportunity to get to know her contacts.
Now onto the task that is Google Plus. I understand that users can protect their privacy by creating circles. But yesterday I noticed a gentleman--whose profile picture displays a moment in time when he decided to lick his shoe--has added me to his “acquaintances” circle.
Is there any way to prevent others from adding me to their circles? And who will want to add my 13 year old daughter to theirs?