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Help Your Teen With Special Needs Stay Safe on Facebook

Provide a little "friend"-ly supervision

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Maybe your teen has been begging you to let her go on Facebook like all her friends. Maybe your teen couldn't be less interested in the service, but you think it would be good for building social skills. Either way, Facebook is an online opportunity worth exploring -- but only with parental supervision. Kids can get into a lot of trouble online, but usually when parents are not a part of the picture. Take the time to learn about Facebook yourself and then lay out some rules for Facebook use that include your "friend"-ly participation. Your teen may secretly be glad to have you for backup.

1. Be a Facebook User Yourself

Start a Facebook account for yourself, if you haven't already. This will give you an idea of what's involved in the set-up, and also allow you to "friend" your child when the time comes. Pay particular attention to the privacy settings on the profile. You may want to allow others more access to your profile than you will your child's, but it's good to have a sense of how everything works.

2. Make Supervision a Required Part of Using Facebook

Have a discussion with your young person, encouraging him or her to get a Facebook profile and laying out the rules for doing so. These will include setting up the account with you and allowing you to know the user name and password; using an e-mail address that you set up and for which you receive copies of all correspondence; and "friending" you so that you can see your child's page and let other people who "friend" your child know you're watching.

3. Use an E-mail Account You Can Monitor

Set up an e-mail address for your teen if you haven't already. Follow my tutorial for starting an e-mail account for which you will get copies of all correspondence. This will let you see any alerts your child receives from Facebook, including those that indicate posts on his wall and responses to comments, direct messages, and chats.

4. Set Up the Account Together

Start the account with your teen, seated together in front of the computer, making decisions about things like passwords, profile pictures, and special interests together. Try to make this a positive, fun, Let's Do Things Together opportunity and not an I Must Watch You at All Times to Make Sure You Do Things Right drag. Give your child as much leeway in presenting a personal profile, stepping in only if information is too personally revealing or immature-seeming.

5. "Friend" Your Teen

To try out the new account, let your teen "friend" you to see how that works. Then allow your teen to search out some family members and school acquaintances to "friend." Let your teen know that there are many reasons why a person might not accept a friend request, and not to take it personally. Most likely, many of the requests will be accepted, and your teen's list of "friends" will grow.

6. Monitor Facebook Usage

Make yourself available when your child is confused by what someone has posted. Keep the computer your child uses in a public space in your house, so you can regularly see what he or she is doing; otherwise, stop by your child's bedroom frequently, ask, and look. Let your child know that you will periodically be logging into the account and looking it over, and then do that. Also look at all those e-mails you've been copied in on.

7. Be a Frequent Visitor to Your Teen's Wall

View your teen's wall as a "friend." Leave comments, and chat sometimes even if you're in the next room. Make Facebook a fun thing you do together, not some super-secret activity to hide from Mom and Dad. View the walls of your teen's friends to get an idea of what kids are talking about and doing online, and don't hassle your teen for playing or talking in an age-appropriate way. Look out for things that are really unsafe or unwise, not stuff that just bugs you.

8. Be an Active Facebook User Yourself

The best way to keep your teen safe is to know more about Facebook -- how it works and how people use it -- than your teen does. If your child is your "friend," and particularly if friends of your teen have "friended" you too, you're going to want to be careful of the personal information you give out and how you talk about your kids. But with reasonable precautions, you can serve as a trusted chaperone for not just your teen but others whose parents might not be so sharp-eyed.

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