Most parents have a wary relationship with social networking when it comes to their kids. We've all heard about cyberbullying and young people doing dangerous things without realizing. But for your teen with special needs, social networks like Facebook can be an easily supervisable way to tiptoe into the world of typical peers without having to actually deal with them in person. With proper supervision, Facebook can be far less treacherous than your average high-school hallway or lunchroom. Here are five reasons why you may want to consider setting up a Facebook account for your child.
1. It establishes an online identity.
Even if you don't want to put up a Facebook page for your teen, that doesn't mean someone else won't, as a friend of my son recently found out when a couple of classmates put up a fake profile without his knowledge. It's very difficult to fight a fradulent account if you don't already have a persona on Facebook. Establishing a page as your teen's genuine online home may make it less interesting for others to impersonate him or her, and will give your teen better standing to fight it if they do.
2. Having friends feels good, even when they're virtual.
It's kind of unfortunate, actually, that Facebook uses the word "friend" to describe connections between users, because you'll have to explain to your teen that a "friend" online isn't necessarily going to act like a buddy in real life. Still, connections are much more easily made and freely given in the Facebook environment, and can give your teen a feeling of social success that's hard to get otherwise. (Of course, you'll want to make sure that one of those names on your teen's friends list is yours.)
3. You can help your child socialize.
Even if you could go to school with your teen and coach every social encounter, you'd probably be more embarrassing than helpful. Online, though, nobody will know if you're reading over statuses, comments, and chat threads with your teen, helping decipher what the slang means and suggesting appropriate responses. Facebooking with your child will also give you a good sense of what kids are talking about and how they're talking that you can use to teach your child more appropriate social skills.
4. It reinforces useful skills.
Your teen may not be interested in typing practice as a boring exercise, but may jump at the chance to type statuses and comments on something cool like Facebook. Practicing the give-and-take of conversation is also easier and less threatening if you're doing it in a chat while playing UNO or in comments on a friend's status. If your teen doesn't have friends who will chat, go ahead and chat with him or her yourself, even if you're in the next room, just to get the typing fingers moving and the communication flowing.
5. It's an age-appropriate activity.
There may be many things that teenagers do that will be unavailable to your teen, inappropriate, or not of interest. Facebook is something widely perceived as cool, something that your child's age peers are very invested in, that is easy for your child to set up and participate in. With the proper supervision, it can be a positive way to be just like everybody else, and opportunities like that are worth seizing.
So how do you keep your child safe on Facebook? Follow these steps.