My oldest two kids (ages 12 and 15) are on Facebook. Why have I let them use it? Two reasons:

1. Youth Group at our church. Our Youth Pastor has embraced Facebook as a basic fact in the life of a teenager and uses it to communicate with kids about Youth Group related stuff. So he’s created a Group for our Youth and uses it like a free website. He still sends parents their beloved emails, of course.

2. Facebook, for now at least, is so basic to the life of a teenager that to keep my kids from using it would put them at a disadvantage with many of their peers. I believe the pros outweigh the cons. My son’s school outlaws these devices, and while their intent is noble, I think they’re sticking their heads in the sand. Far better, I think, to teach kids how to use social media than to ignore it—especially since the world we’re preparing them to navigate is built on said technology.

And I say all this the morning after my daughter posted some stupid stuff on her profile. More on that in a minute.

Yes, FB can gobble too much time and opens up new temptations and land mines—but so do many things in life.

Yes, FB can replace genuine, face-to-face community—but it also increases a sense of connectivity previously unavailable to our kids. In some ways, they’re far more connected to each other than I was with my friends growing up.

Yes, FB creates a space where kids can express stupid, hurtful things—but it also encourages self-expression and creates a space where shy kids can now share things they find hard to say in face-to-face conversations.

Yes, FB is full of pointless blather. But it also helps people learn social cues. Say something pointless, no one “likes” it or shares a comment. Say something stupid, someone may just call you on it. Of course, the flip side is also true—if your friends are jerks they can reinforce stupid behaviour.

All this to say, Facebook isn’t inherently evil. Which is why I let my kids use it. But here’s how we do it:

1. I have more than 850 friends on Facebook, so I’ve created a “Close Friends” Group of about thirty people that includes my kids. This helps me zero in on what they’re doing online.

2. I read everything they post. We also have their FB login info just in case we need it (see Infraction #4, below). Also related, I hold the administrative rights/password on all my kids devices. I’ve disabled YouTube, Safari, and set the content ratings myself.

3. We’ve already discussed online predators and not to post info that could help sickos locate them. No talking to strangers. Only befriend people they know. The basics.

4. When they post something sketchy or stupid, we talk about it. Not on Facebook, in real life. Of course, if we can’t talk right away I comment on what they’ve posted. Kinda like, “Um, why did you post this? Need to talk after school, buddy pal.” If a kid isn’t willing to talk about what they’ve posted, they’re not mature enough to use Facebook because Facebook is about posting things for discussion.

5. We use their dumb posts / likes / comments as teachable moments. A few important lessons: Kids (and adults, apparently) need to understand what they post online isn’t an alter ego, it’s an extension of their own heart and mind and people read it that way. Say something stupid to your friend, and your grandma reads it too. What you “like” is a reflection of who you are, so be very careful what you endorse. When posting or commenting, we need to ask, “Is this who I am? What I want to be known for?” If not, don’t post or comment. These kinds of discussions have been pure gold with our kids.

6. When my kids do something stupid on FB: We take away the iPod and drive over it, right? Wrong. That would remove the opportunity for them to learn from their mistakes, which is the same thing as refusing to prepare them for life. FB mistakes are inevitable, so if they happen sporadically, we just talk it through. If they pile up in a short period of time, though, we handle it like so:

First infraction: Discussion ensues, helping them understand what they’ve done and why it matters. Their response to the correction is more important than what they’ve done. This may include discussions about how frequently they post. Yesterday I made one of my kids post an apology for something they’d posted earlier. The apology went something like, “I posted something stupid today, sorry, this is not who I want to be as a person.”

Second infraction: Take the iPod away for a day or two, then discuss, then give it back. Their response to the correction is more important than what they’ve done.

Third infraction: Take the iPod away for a week and discuss the trend they’re establishing. Discipline includes introducing the concept of deleting their profile and making them start over after the week is over if things don’t improve. Their response to the correction is more important than what they’ve done.

Fourth infraction: Never been here.  To get to this point would indicate more than stupidity. It would indicate rebellion. I would take away the iPod for a month, delete their FB profile, and lay out even stricter rules for the relaunch. If I had to do this more than once, I would probably rethink iPods themselves.

What about you? Any thoughts on this? Advice? Stuff I’ve missed?