Facebook For Teens: Best Practices and Online Behavior Tips

Written on September 7, 2012 at 11:45 am , by

My son studies with Facebook open on his laptop. I have tried fighting this. But this year, I decided to make peace with it. I insist he do his homework in the family room while I work or cook dinner so I can redirect his attention if Facebook (or YouTube) becomes too distracting. With this oversight, I’ve decided his current group of friends are helping him enjoy school so they are welcome to stop by for a virtual study group.

Facebook gives him a little company as he works. He can ask a friend from class if they understood the math or if he has the homework right. He can share a joke and make the homework hour more fun. (And YouTube is where he goes to watch a math lesson from Sal Khan at the Khan Academy, which is why he is getting good grades in math.) To make peace with the things that worry me, I added, “Talk about/Clean up Facebook” to my to-do list for back to school. I figure if Facebook has become part of school, we will do it right. So before I got down to the cleaning up the virtual house (see below) for the school year, I decided we needed to talk about appropriate online behavior.

Saying bad things about teachers on social media, for example, can get you into a lot of trouble. I shared a story I’d heard over dinner about a local teacher expelling a student for slanderous comments made on Twitter. We talked about cyber-bullying and how to avoid being either bullied or bully. I discovered that both of my kids wanted to know the rules so they could avoid accidentally breaking them. In fact, they seemed a little confused about what they could say face-to-face versus online.

Essentially I was explaining something that’s obvious to those of us who grew up before the Internet but is apparently not clear to those who have grown up having as much social interaction online as off. Facebook is a form of publishing. What you post there can have a very long life and get shared with people you didn’t intend to share it with. It is safest when it’s used for sharing happy statements (things you “like” rather than those you don’t), profound observations, and statements you don’t mind people associating with your identity. If you are angry and need to blow off steam, pick up the phone and talk to someone. Save the Facebook commentary for comments you are willing to share with everyone , including the thing or person you are talking about.

After our chat, it was time to spiff up their Facebook pages so they could be proud to share them with friends and teachers at school. As it happens, Facebook recently sent me some tips on this. I love getting tips from the pros. So here they are:

  • Say Cheese: Make a great first impression by filling the wide open space at the top of your timeline with a unique image that represents you best (a great summer trip, your dog or a favorite photo with you and your friends) and shows off your creativity or interests. It’s the first thing people see when they visit your timeline. Make it memorable.
  • Share Memories: Share and highlight your most memorable posts, photos and life events on your timeline, what camp you went to this summer, a few classes you may be excited for this fall and any of the milestones you may have hit since school ended a few months ago. Use your timeline to share your life story from beginning to now with friends and family. Highlight or star photos you specifically want friends to see so they appear bigger on your timeline. Edit posts to make them visible to only you or a select group of friends.
  • Curate: Go through your activity log, scroll through every story and adjust the settings on photos or posts from your timeline so all your friends (or just certain groups of friends,  family, close friends, coworkers), can see them. Sometimes not everyone (especially your teachers) need to see everything that happened over the summer.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.