Privacy; Being a Social Media Pro and a Dad

Our son turned thirteen last month.

We decided not to let him get a Facebook account.

Of course, it’s not that simple, is it? As a social media professional, I had eyed this day for some time, wondering if working in social media meant that, of course, I had to have my kid trained and ready to go, right?

Not so fast.

While I am something of an over-sharer in my pursuit to understand social media tools, my enjoyment in using them, and the expansion of my professional/social circles, I’m not as eager to get my child involved as one might think. I do want him to use these tools, use them smart and use them well. just not now.

Does that mean other parents shouldn’t let their young teens on Facebook? No, everyone makes their own rules and their own choices, and several friends have let their kids on at younger ages.

Privacy and safety certainly are concerns. While I’m not as extreme in worrying about such things as my friend Chris Penn, he has some point in this post. I do, however, have my own personal privacy policy. I will expect my son to follow it, and it involves a level of awareness and maturity that frankly isn’t necessary yet.

One of those privacy rules is that I don’t put pictures of my son (or other children) online unless they are behind some sort of password or “friends only” wall, with rare exceptions. How is that going to work if he is on Facebook? I know that as he gets into high school, the local papers covering sports and school and other local activities will make that rule irrelevant, but for now, I’ll teach him to savor some anonymity.

Aside from privacy, there is a practical reason for not letting him on Facebook. Whom will he be talking to? The people he sees in school every day and already texts with? His teammates? He needs to put a compelling case for getting on and using Facebook in order to get on now (if there were a school or other project that involved putting together media or some other collaboration via Facebook, I’d love to help with that). “Daddy’s on Facebook all the time” isn’t enough of a reason (he tried that line of reasoning).

Back to privacy and child protection- there is a troubling aspect to Facebook letting 13 year olds on in the first place. Not sure I’m cool with that in many ways, and not sure I want to support that.

So, we bring this quesiton up again in two years when he enters high school.

How about you? Do you have kids? Are they on Facebook? Why or why not?


  1. I haven’t given up but I’m prepared to give in at some point – around 13 probably. Please clarify why you don’t post pictures of A on Facebook or un-private photo sites. What is the risk? Then again, my son goes to more social media events than you do & he’s cute ; ).
    Also how do you feel about Google Buzz? In a shocking development, my kid uses it with his friends more than you do. Seems like potential for inappropriate video sharing & even friending someone they shouldn’t from a spam email. Lastly, I trust my social media friends to limit their use of location based services, but am not pleased that the services allow 13-year-olds to join without parental permission. Creep factor is high, but I trust my kid to make smart decisions online.

  2. It’s a tough one, Doug,

    I don’t have kids that age yet, and I’m not sure what I’d do if they were. I’d like to think I’m fairly open and relaxed, but at the same time I know how these networks can be used and abused.

    I guess it’s one of these “need to be in the shoes” things. I definitely would never share my kids info on social networks – that’s their decision.

    But when they reach the age when they can have an account? Hmm, not sure mate.

    Great question and one that I feel will have a lot of different answers.

  3. Adam, I just don’t like throwing kid photos (my own and especially others) for the whole public to see. You are- or should be a flickr “friend” so should be able to see all mine, but I know you. I don’t want people taking and using, or even looking at, kid picks unless I want them to. And I don’t want any bad folks stringing together more information about usual whereabouts, etc, than is already out there.

    Some folks throw their kids out all over the social web, and that’s fine, but I’m not comfortable with it. As I say in the post, the time where that matters will end soon enough. No need to force it.

    Danny– I read you, and I’m there– I considered letting him on- maybe- but my wife is dead-set against it for now, and that’s good enough. And you are right– there is no one answer.

  4. This is a topic we’re all going to be seeing a lot more of in the coming years, as the current generation of parents and kids are really the first to tackle these issues on a large scale.

    My personal rules for photos are similar. I set up a separate Flickr account just to share photos of my daughter. All the photos are set to private, and only people that are connected as “Family” can see them, and the only people that I have connected to the account, or even know it exists, are people that I’m close with in real life. I created this separate Flickr account for the sole purpose of sharing family photos with friends and relatives who are spread out around the world. I’m really active on Flickr, but I have completely separate account (my two accounts aren’t even “friends” with each other).

    Personally, I think it’s a bit strange and creepy to splash pics of your kid around the web. I’m not worried about safety, or creeps or anything along those lines (if you look at the actual stats, online weirdness with kids is actually extremely rare).

    I do think there is something that makes me uncomfortable about having pictures of my kid attached to my social media accounts like FB, Twitter and my regular Flickr account. Because of work, hobbies I’m involved in or certain links and topics that might arise, something seems uncool about having my kids picture there. For example, some of the guys I race bikes with curse non-stop in their posts, or will throw up photos of nasty, bloody biking injuries and broken bones. Some of the discussions I’m involved in on a topic like religion or politics can turn heated and nasty. I don’t feel OK with my kids photos sharing a page with stuff like that. I’m sure other people would rather not see my kids photo while they composing a comment thread about the evils of The Pope.

    I also keep thinking that one day when she’s old enough to work the interwebz by herself, she’ll stumble upon some comment thread where I express my true feelings about Gillian Anderson, and her baby picture will be floating right next to it.

    Then there is a whole subset of people who use their kids photo as their avatars…No, just no people.

  5. First off, what a lucky kid that he has a dad who is this involved and cares this much. I was lucky to have parents like this and I came out all right if I do say so myself. :)

    I think basically in all aspects of being that age of 11/12/13…you can either grow up really fast or chill a little bit. You can sorta still play with dolls in secret or you can jump right into teenage-y things like dating and Facebook. I say stay a kid as long as possible. Run around in the back yard, make a fort, play video games… Trust me. You have the rest of your life to revel in the drama that stuff like Facebook (it was Myspace for me at that age) intensifies…everything from pictures being posted to changed relationship statuses to party event invites. You have the *rest* of your life. At 13? Geez, why start? Go play baseball kiddo!

    That said, I’d love to buy my kid’s domain names, and if Twitter and Gmail are still the jam in the 2020’s when I have kids…snag those up too just so they have the option of having an online brand with their own name later on. But really engaging on Facebook? Savor your privacy and be a kid. Seriously.

  6. I always used to get confused with Mommy bloggers because I hang out with a lot of really amazing ones. But I only ever blogged about being the digital immigrant parent to a digital native. I didn’t talk about my daughter – I talked about me, as someone who had to make choices like this.

    That said? My daughter has had access to a ‘faux’ account – only visible to family and *very* close friends, only used for playing silly games like Farmville, and only while supervised. So we’ve rather been talking about the ‘how to survive online’ skills and parental rules with her since she was old enough to click a mouse.

    Someone close to me (deliberately obscuring the relationship) with a child now 17 and in high school has taken the path I intend to follow with my own daughter. She has full access to her daughter’s online accounts, has the understanding that phone & or computer use that is deceptive or hidden that is discovered will result in revocation of privileges like phone & car use, and her daughter has known from day one that there *may* be random checking at any time. That said, she has built up a level of trust over time that has made the ‘threat’ of random checks unnecessary. She has also managed to somehow impart over the past 4 years that ‘stupid & rebellious online’ only results in issues for the teen. Mostly due to an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence to choose from. Her daughter has seen friends victims of the ‘ex’ sending along X-rated photos, rumors passed along like truth, predators and con-artists taking advantage of the unwary.
    Turns out that smart kids and smart parents figure out their way together. There’s no one ‘set of rules’ that works. But for the other sort? There’s no warning that will come early enough or be heard despite how often it’s repeated.

  7. I think the most important thing parents can do is teach kids about internet safety and be as aware as possible about how/if they’re using social networking sites. My kids are 14 and 12 and they’re allowed to use Facebook if I can see what they’re doing and can check their messages. I point out stuff not to do–check in at places, lock down their privacy settings so friends of theirs can’t check them in places (if you don’t lock that down on Facebook, others can check them in), photos that are not ok to post (bathing suit photos, etc), things that are not ok to say (I’m going to X place with X person; I’m having a sleepover with X (hurt feelings), etc. etc). The thing is that they learn about this stuff from their friends–my 12 year old even knew about Chatroulette! A whole other ball of wax is online safety in online gaming…my son plays PS3 online with friends and observing that I had to tell him why it’s not ok to say mean stuff about the kid none of them knew in the “room”, don’t use your real name or address, etc, etc.

    Also, last thing I’ll say…kids, especially teens…are sneaky. The kids my kids are friends with whose parents forbid them to be on Facebook…are on Facebook, but under a fake name. I’d much rather my kid be on and supervised by me than on with no adult supervision or guidance.

  8. Janet– yes, I would say my son is still more kid than teen at this point– changes every day though. Plus, I do own my son’s name as a web address. I’ll help him get a WordPress blog going (and probably impress him with the fact that I work with some of the best WP developers in the industry, even if I don’t ask for their help– actually, he my not understand why that’s cool- whatever)

    Lucretia- I definitely plan to have full access to my son’s accounts– back when he was on Webkinz I had his password, and his PS3 account is actually mine (which doesn’t cause many problems, as I don’t play very much).

    Maggie– we have seen incidents of kids being mean– to each other, teachers, et al, but they also don’t need Facebook to be like that. I don’t worry as much about his participating in that stuff as he doesn’t do it offline- but would love to see him dive in with a cool project with his friends in mind. Maybe that will be the stipulation when he does get on.

  9. Doug, this is such an important topic and one that has more layers than an onion. I think the decision on how to handle your child’s social media or online access is personal and will differ with every family. I don’t at all fault you for being cautious. I also tend to agree with your thoughts on sharing images of kids online and am very careful to ask first, on just not share, those pics.

    The issue of monitoring a child’s social networking activity is complex and, as Maggie points out, kids can be sneaky. Also, your kid may be as good as gold but their friends may not be and kids are influenced by their peers–often to do things they know are against the rules. I remember the first time my younger came came home from a friend’s house and tearfully confessed to having played a video game that rated T (he was pretty young then). He knew it was wrong but didn’t have the courage to go against his friend’s coaxing.

    So kids can and will access social networks from libraries and friend’s houses and phones, create false names and fake emails, in order to be able to take part int he ongoing and compelling conversations their peers are holding online. On Facebook, Facebook chat, secret groups, Blackberry chat, etc. Monitoring that is difficult if not impossible.

    Monitoring Facebook chat? Good luck. As the kids get older the involvement with Facebook chat grows and kids can use chat with kid or teen judgment (or lack thereof). Chat allows kids to gang up on each other and to post harsh comments they might not say face to face. In today’s 24/7 online environment, how does a kid get away from the Facebook chat that’s turned against him? Especially when many parents really don’t even understand the power of this aspect of Facebook.

    Another aspect of Facebook participation that our family experienced (I blogged about this here: is that the media now uses Facebook for background information. Your child might be approached by a member of the media for information. My son was friended by a reporter who wanted information on a tragic and sensational story. I don’t know if the reporter in question is still a Facebook friend, making everything my son and his friends post part of her newstream, or not. The ethics of this are questionable and your kid, or someone else’s kid, may not understand deeper implications of friending a member of the press.

    Schools struggle to monitor the sites students can access while trying to allow some online use for learning. In our case, our son reported that a friend was able to pull up a Chatroulette competitor in class, under the watchful eye of the teacher, and watch a man pleasure himself. The teacher, while in the room, had no idea what was going on. The IT people probably hadn’t known about this site (at that time Chatroulette already had 25 or 30 competitors) and hadn’t blocked it.

    Maggie and Lucretia both talk about the advisability of using a child’s involvement with social networks to teach right and wrong and areas to be wary of. We have done that in our family. However, in spite of that, we’ve had ugly experiences. Things I just hadn’t anticipated, and I think this will be common for most parents. And I won’t even go into the issues presented by gaming and its ability for online access. Yikes.

    Sadly the majority of parents need to understand more about these tools themselves, if only to be able to help their children negotiate them as safely as possible. So every post that addresses this topic has real value as it may find its way into the newstream or email or RSS feed of a parent who needs to know more.

  10. Ah you and I are on a similar page. I do get a kick out of interacting with my older college age kids online. I also am introducing my tweeners/teens to social on my terms. That’s right I’m the parent!

    Your, and my concerns about privacy, productivity, distractions and the like however, call into question all of social participation. As an early adopter like you I had visions of social media addressing (not curing, but by empowering humans ) many challenges society faces. Today I’m less idealistic.

    Social has it’s place and still has its enormous potential, but I believe society needs to mature in terms of how we use these new forms of communication.

    When it comes to children, we’ll always err on the side of caution and this means we’ll take our time figuring out social for the younger generations.

  11. Hmm. I certainly applaud the level of consideration at play here, but I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions. Maybe it’s because I came of age around the time everything started getting sanitized “for the children”. I was a kid when water guns could suddenly no longer look like real guns. I was a kid for the whole slap bracelet thing. Video game ratings? They flat-out didn’t exist. I was plowing into high school around the time the bike helmet ruckus really hit high gear.

    Or maybe it’s because my oldest is still in toddlerdom, and my perspective will shift as my kids grow up.

    I think it all comes back to how much should we, as parents, control the environment our kids grow up in. And, to an extent, how much CAN we control it. And is there a danger in trying to exert too much control?

    A year or so ago, I came across a post on Wired’s Geek Dad blog, in which the author was discussing when he was going to let his kids see Star Wars. Despite their being 5 and 7, and already aware of and interested in Star Wars, he planned on keeping it from them until they turned 10. As one whose parents exposed him to a lot of things growing up, this level of control strikes me as outrageous.

    Social participation is obviously a different animal from policing what movies your kids watch, but I think at some point controlling the environment too much can do more harm than good. Personally, I like Lucretia’s “faux account” approach, but every family and every family dynamic is different.

    As to photos…I tend to leave my Flickr photostream wide open, and maybe put certain photos behind the friends/family wall. But then it’s a different matter when the kids are 2 and 7 months. I’m sure I’ll rethink things when my daughter starts down the road toward adolescence.

    In closing – thanks for the blog post (and the great comments)!

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