Should You 'Friend' Your Kid?

Glenn Matsumura

BJ Fogg wants parents on Facebook so badly he’s teaching Facebook for Parents, an unofficial, not-for-credit course on campus. Fogg, MA ’95, PhD ’97, one of Fortune’s “10 New Gurus You Should Know,” runs Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab. He has taught Stanford classes such as Psychology of Facebook and is the co-author of Mobile Persuasion: 20 Perspectives on the Future of Behavior Change. Fogg and his sister, Linda Phillips, a mom of eight, helped 70 parents this spring to think about social networking as an opportunity to connect with their children. Summer Moore Batte, ’99, asked Fogg and Phillips for their Facebook advice for fogeys.

Just do it.

“Our kids are natives in the online world,” says Phillips. “We are foreigners.” Parents need to become comfortable with social networking tools (i.e., join Facebook) and use them to better communicate with their children. “Facebook is the No. 1 tool in our lifetimes for parenting,” Phillips adds, because it enables parents to ask about specifics. Fogg explains: Facebook allows you to say, in person, “Oh, I saw you’re a fan of so-and-so musician,” or ask about a certain friend.

Your moody teen might be more willing to write than talk.

“Facebook has a culture of disclosure,” Fogg says. “[Teens] have private conversations on a wall. They’ll [even] ask people out.” Phillips says research shows teenagers are still learning to be comfortable and successful when communicating orally, but they can write like there’s no tomorrow. Writing skills plus a less threatening environment mean you may find out more about your child’s life on Facebook, and in subsequent talks, than you would without Facebook as a conversation starter.

No posting your own college spring break photos.

The No. 1 fear of teens is that their parents will embarrass them, Fogg says. It’s imperative to “friend” your child and discuss their comfort level with you being active on their page. Then, be smart about things for Jr.’s sake and your own: don’t upload photos that would make a loved one feel awkward; don’t “friend” your child’s friends without consulting your kid; and educate yourself so that you know the social-network culture and jargon.

Keep that front yard tidy.

Fogg says to think of your teen’s Facebook page not as her private bedroom, but as your front lawn. Anyone can walk by and see what’s going on; it could be recorded and what happens there can impact your family. Extend your family values to the Internet. Teach your kids to be socially responsible and to interact appropriately with their peers—just as you would in any other situation.

Facebook, educational?

Fogg and Phillips tick off 21st-century life skills kids can take from Facebook. Your child is taking on a service project? Encourage him to make a Facebook page for it. “Collaborating, getting feedback on homework, rallying through social networking: these are the skills they will use in work, volunteerism, et cetera,” Fogg says. “Parents should understand that and coach and support that . . . understand the possibilities.”