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Monday, February 25, 2008

Social Networking Sites

Since beginning this column over a year ago, I have been fortunate enough to have several people per week talk to me about the topics I write about in a very complementary manner, but supportive or not, I always ask them provide feedback or suggest topics that would be helpful to them in their relationships. I appreciate every comment, positive or not. This week I talked to two sets of parents who wanted some suggestions on the networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and several others that have become so popular with teenagers and young adults.
These sites have become part middle/high school yearbook, part high tech pen pal, part continuation of the social aspect of the school day, and even a place for classmates to keep up with each other or rediscover each other after years apart. Participants can leave messages to friends, in private or in a public forum, and even post pictures and video. A person’s profile page can contain pictures, a general map showing where in the US the person lives, all the places they have travelled, their interests, hobbies, jobs and just about anything else you can imagine.
Employers, scholarship committees, universities, internships, even the Armed Services routinely look at an applicant’s page. This brings me to my first piece of advice, and it applies to everyone on networking sites: Do NOT post anything you wouldn’t proudly tell ANYONE in your life: grandma, your boss, your pastor/priest, or a perfect stranger. When you post to these sites, that post is on the Internet forever and everyone on the planet can view them. Along with this, check to see what your friends are posting about you and ask them to follow the “Grandma” rule when posting about you. Ok, adults you are now on your own.
I am lucky enough to be married to a technology teacher, so parents here are some things Dawn and I have learned with four kids with MySpace and Facebook pages.

  • Have an “open door policy.” Either the computer is in a public place like the living room; or if they have their own computer, the bedroom door is open if they are on the computer.
  • You should know the passwords to every email account and networking site they are on. Write them down and check them often. You may want to provide your child fair warning before logging in the first time, but let them know after the first time surprise inspections are the rule.
  • Check your kid’s pages often. If you are uneasy about reading a diary or going into their room uninvited, these pages are not the same- they are public knowledge. For what it is worth, my wife and I hold no such squeamishness.
  • Remind them often that the cute teenage boy/girl that is emailing or messaging them may be neither a boy/girl nor a teenager.
  • Finding something objectionable should not be a “gotcha” moment. It should be an opportunity for a discussion about the rules, and why the rules are what they are. As with all household rules, try as much as possible to negotiate and get your child’s “buy in” to the rules.

At the end of the day, YOU are the parent. You provided the computer, the internet access, the electricity and the place the computer sits. You are also responsible to keep your child safe and to protect their future until they decide their own path. These networking sites do not have to be a bad thing, so don’t fear them. They can be another tool for you the parent to have window in the life of your teenager, make good use of it.
Tagline: Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. Mark has completed graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He is happy to speak or provide a workshop for your organization and can be reached at

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