Kids today are growing up in public – and this is especially true when it comes to Facebook. The almost ubiquitous social network's new Timeline reveals every post your teen ever made on Facebook (read our review to see why we rate the site "off" for kids younger than 13). Unless teens hide old posts and are vigilant about limiting their audience, countless details of their lives appear in pictures, conversations, and random thoughts. The issue here is simple: What they say or do on Facebook adds up and affects their reputations.
The simplest and most effective way to help your kids protect their reputations and privacy is to make sure they use their privacy settings. Facebook gives users the ability to control the audience for each post, as well as previous posts. Make sure your teens understand how to use the Audience Selector (but know, too, that this means teens can block you from reading their posts.)
First, log into Facebook and click on "Privacy Settings" in the upper right-hand corner next to "Home." Under Control Your Default Privacy, select "Custom." The Custom setting allows you to customize the audience for different aspects of your Facebook profile. Your kids need to set controls in each area: How You Connect, How Tags Work, Apps and Websites, Limit the Audience for Past Posts, and Blocked People and Apps.
The most important privacy settings are reviewed below.
How You Connect
Here’s where you can control who can view your Timeline, who can contact you (and how), and who can see certain information. Click on “Edit Settings” and then click into each section to select the level of desired privacy. We recommend selecting “Friends Only” for the settings on this page.
Pay close attention to the section that says "Who can look up your Timeline by name or contact info?" This setting refers to people who are logged-in users of Facebook. We recommend Friends Only for teens.
How Tags Work
These settings allow your kid to control who can tag him or her in posts. We recommend that teens turn on Tag Review, so they can preview posts they're tagged in before they go live. We strongly discourage teens from allowing friends to check them into places because of the real safety and privacy risks of people knowing their location.
Apps and Websites
The apps you use on Facebook can access any information you've made public -- that's how they allow you to connect with friends. But you can limit what information can be shared about you by app companies, other websites, and even by your friends. Review each setting with your teen and consider using the strictest settings.
The very last setting on this page is a key one: Public search. Facebook prevents users registered as teens to be searchable on a search engine. But if your teen has used a different birthdate, they could be searchable. Bottom line, don’t enable public search for teens.
Facebook regularly changes it feature sets. So you will have to stay on top of things and pay attention when they send you notices. But taking the time to make sure your kids have set their privacy settings means your kids will have more control over their reputations and privacy, and you will have more peace of mind.