Using Facebook Safely: What Advice Should You Give Your Kids?

By Marilynne Rudick on September 4, 2010

My friend Jan is appalled at the provocative photos her niece Kira—12 going on 17—posted on her Facebook page. Jan thinks Kira is typical of a lot of kids who without a second thought post pictures displaying booze and boobs.

Kids don’t realize—or don’t care—about the global reach and the long shelf life of information posted on social networking sites. Long after a teenager tires of her nose ring, the Facebook photos can turn up in a Google search.

Jan, who had worked in HR for a large association, knew that employers checked out a potential employee’s Facebook page. “In a tight job, with lots of qualified candidates,” she asked, “would you hire the one whose Facebook photos showed her displaying deep cleavage or chugging a beer?”

Of course kids are not the only ones getting into trouble for the content of their Facebook page, blog or tweet. It seems that everyday there’s another story about some public figure being fired for some inappropriate post. These people should know better, but younger people often don’t know better. They’ve grown up in a culture that eschews privacy, and they don’t really get that “youthful indiscretion” can come back to haunt them. As they said when I was growing up: “It goes on your permanent record.”

There’s no way to put the privacy genie back in the bottle. And social norms regarding privacy change. Our parents whispered about things such as cancer and sexual orientation that we feel fine discussing out loud. So there’s a good chance that in the near future, no one will think twice about what we now view as inappropriate content. But until then, here’s some advice to give your kids about safe social networking.

  1. Explain the possible repercussions of inappropriate content. Your kids and their peers might think there’s nothing wrong with posting party pictures, but decision-makers—college admissions staff and potential employers—may disagree.  A 2009 Career Builders survey found that more than 45% of employers reported using social networks to check out job applicants (up from 22% in 2008), and 35% reported rejecting a candidate as a result. Provocative or inappropriate photos or information accounted for 53% of the rejections.
  2. Make sure they know about and choose privacy settings that restrict access. Sit down with your kids and review privacy options for Facebook and other social networking sites. For example, explain that giving “everyone” access means that police, employers, and any of the millions of people using the network have access to that data.
  3. Encourage them to choose their friends carefully. Don’t automatically accept every friending request. Before friending, encourage kids to check out the person’s page. Is this someone they would choose to friend in the real world?  Employers can judge you by the friends you keep. And friends have access to your personal data—including photos—that they could make public.
  4. Friend your kids so that you can see what they are posting. (Yes, you’ll have to join the network to friend them!) If they turn down your friend request, perhaps pull on the purse strings. Who pays for their cell phone and texting?

Given the potential social networking minefields, should you encourage your kids to avoid social networking sites altogether? Absolutely not! The flipside of the Career Builders survey is that 18% of employers hired an individual because of the content their social networking site. With social networking now a staple of corporate communication, job candidates who use social networking sites to showcase their qualifications and demonstrate their mastery of these tools have a leg up.

Categories: Facebook, Safety & Privacy, Social Networking
Tags: , , , ,


  • Just saw this article. I will definitely send it on to my daughter. Thank you. Evy in Colorado

    Posted by: E Simpson on October 10, 2010 at 6:39 pm

  • Great advice!!! Thanks for putting is so succinctly. –Peggy from Maryland

    Posted by: Peggy Sange on September 7, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Add your comments, thoughts, and recommendations:

  • (your email address is kept private and will not be shown publicly)
  • (optional)



    Why WebOver50?

    You'd like to learn more about social networking, blogs, and other web tools. But who's got the time, and where do you start?

    That's where we come in. We'll sort through the jungle of web apps and tell you what's WebOver50-friendly and fun. We'll tell you how to web-surf safely. And we'll explain things in plain English--no jargon or web speak.

    It's easy to subscribe!
    Just enter your e-mail address in the subscribe field. You'll get new posts delivered to your inbox.