From malt shops in the 50's to roller rinks in the 70's, every generation of teenagers has gravitated to a place they can call their own. A place absent of rules, responsibilities and most importantly parents. Ten years ago, you might have found teens hanging out in the food court at the local mall. Today, teens opt for a virtual hangout. Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have attracted teens by the millions from around the globe. It offers them the ability to stay in contact with their network of friends, share interests and hobbies, upload pictures, post video clips, share their favorite music, join causes or groups, send birthday wishes to friends and much more.
I have both a MySpace and a Facebook page so I can keep my finger on the pulse as I minister to teens and address issues about growing up in today's culture. I must confess that my experience on these sites has helped me better understand what draws teens there. Hardly a day goes by when I don't check my own pages!
If you allow your children to participate in the social networking sites (minimum requirement of 14 years of age for MySpace and freshmen in highschool for Facebook), consider using the tips below as a contract with your teen. Have your teen initial each tip as a personal pledge to honor these boundaries. Let your teen know that you will be book-marking his or her page and checking the content from time to time (either by logging onto his or her account directly or accessing it as an approved "friend"). Emphasize that it is not an issue of trust, but rather an issue of concern for his or her safety.
Rules for Social Networking Sites
Principle to follow: Remember that all space is really "His space." Would your page make God smile? Would others come away knowing you are a Christian? When it comes to the social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, 1 Chronicles 29:11 sums it up: "Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all"(NIV, emphasis added).
Parents, the list above is not comprehensive. If your child is young and/or lacks maturity, you might add additional safeguards such as no profile picture, no picture or video uploads allowed, no using the blog feature, no friends unless they are real live, good friends and/or you pre-approve them. Again, you can limit the information they post and ban them from utilizing many of the features offered. You can exercise control, but you must be engaged in the process in order to know how to do this. I highly recommend that you require your child to give you his or her page log-in information and spot check the page from time to time. I view this as the "training wheels phase" during which Mom and/or Dad come(s) alongside in an effort to teach their kids to use the sites in a responsible manner. To allow them to participate without parental guidance would be similar to taking your toddler off their tricycle, placing them on a ten speed back and giving them a push down a busy street. It's only a matter of time before disaster strikes!