Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Teaching Parents About Facebook and Internet Safety

About a month and a half ago I was asked by our PTO to host a viewing of Growing Up Online by PBS Frontline and facilitate a discussion after. The session was attended by approximately a dozen parents who were interested in learning more about keeping their children safe online. We had some great discussions about the program and what some of these parents were doing with their children.

My message to parents about keeping their children safe online is fairly simple. Parents in my community are a large part of their children's offline lives. I push them to become as much a part of their children's online lives. I use the analogy of the Internet being very much like a large city (plenty of places and people you'd be ok with them getting to know and many you'd like to keep them far away from). I don't know any parents who would just drop their children off in the middle of a large city in the morning telling them "have a good time today... I'll pick you up at 8pm." They also would never allow a friend "to show them the ropes" either. Why on earth would they allow that to happen on the Internet? I feel that parents need to get involved with online services like chat, social networking, etc. so that they can communicate with their children in these arenas. Otherwise their children's online lives become a private place where their parents do not belong. If you bring your children to these online services and teach them how you'd like them to use them at a young age (legal age for Facebook is 13) it will not be something that they will push you away from. If a parent never disciplined a child until he/she was 15 they'd have some real problems. Not being part of their online lives until their children are immersed in these worlds is very much the same. Parents do need to allow their children to grow and slowly allow them more freedom with their online lives as they get older (just like they do offline).

So back to my evening with the PTO...

As I was speaking with some of the parents after the PTO meeting, I got the idea of holding another night to help parents become acquainted with social networking. My co-workers in the district (Alice Barr and Cathy Wolinsky) and I developed a plan for our evening and put it out to the parents. We held this evening session on Monday night and it was absolutely amazing. We had approximately 35 parents show up for our session on setting up an account on Facebook. We wanted to appeal to parents who were not comfortable getting started on their own so we kept the goals for the night fairly simple. We taught them how to:

  • Set up an account
  • Add friends
  • Set privacy settings they were comfortable with
  • Join a group for parents in our town (we planted that one with one of the parents)
We piled all of these parents into one room and everyone was on a computer so it was very hands-on. While they were learning how to navigate around the Facebook site they helped each other wonderfully and had great conversations about their thoughts regarding their children using these sites.

Alice, Cathy and I were clear right from the beginning in our motives for holding this event. We find that many parents are not involved in social networking and get caught up in the media frenzy surrounding these sites and their children's safety. We wanted to make them comfortable with Facebook so they could make good decisions about how they want to proceed with their children - not just deny their children access out of fear of the unknown. We were clear that we don't have all the answers. This is parenting at its best and there is no one solution that will work for all kids. We had a great mix of parents with children ranging from elementary through high school ages. This mix allowed for some great interaction for parents who are already in the middle of it all and parents just getting the questions from their children about becoming involved in the online world.

Here's the list of resources we shared with the parents who attended this session:

Thoughts on Facebook - Cornell University
All in the Facebook Family: Older Generations Join Social Networks - CNN
100 Awesome Facebook Apps for Productivity and Learning - Select Courses
How to Survive the New Facebook - Mashable
Facebook for Parents - Common Sense Media
10 Privacy Settings All Facebook Users Should Know -

Image Attribution:

Image: 'Street Sign II'


rdrunner said...

Thanks for sharing the resources. I'll be adding it to others on Parent 2.0Cindy Seibel

A Special Kind Of Teacher..... said...

Wow...this is really great stuff. Are the parents actively using facebook now? Have you introduced them to twitter as well? I think that's an awesome idea to get the parents on board.

Mike Arsenault said...

Ultimate Teacher... thanks for the comment. We stuck with Facebook (but Twitter did come up during the conversation). We had the parents for an hour and a half so we just got them started. I'll be curious to see how well they develop the parent group that was created that night. I've run into a couple of the parents after the meeting and they are hooked.

One of my advisory students came in the next day elated. Her parents would not let her have an account on Facebook and she wanted one badly. After attending this session, getting involved with FB and talking with other parents her parents decided to let her create an account.

Cheryloakes50 said...

Mike, what a great article summarizing your intentions and getting parents in a spot where they could do some great learning and have reflective conversations. Kudo's to you, Alice and Cathy. Keep on!

Rebecca Weir said...

I work with foster parents and at risk youth in Montgomery County, PA. Lately Facebook has become a hot topic for teens in placement settings. How could I set up an event like the one mentioned here, in my area? I would like to see something to educate teens about the perils as well as helping adults gain a better understanding of this networking tool.

Mike Arsenault said...


I would start with a group you'd like to address. We started with our PTO group. You may want to do the same or maybe a local foster parent group. I would guess some of the issues you are dealing with are a bit different than my parents and their children are dealing with.

Unknown said...

This is a great idea and I think I might do the same with my parents. Thanks!