Facebook is still king of all social media networks by far, used by eight out of 10 online Americans. That is more than double the users of the next most popular social media network, Twitter. But haven't you heard Facebook is dead?
Yes, it's true that the younger crowd is migrating to Snapchat, with 80 percent of teens saying they post snaps at least once a month. But 52 percent of teenagers still use Facebook once a month and older adults are joining more and more. Pew Research Center's Social Media Update 2016 shows the majority of online adults over the age of 65 are now using Facebook.
This leads to the first reason why Facebook is my favorite mainstream social media network for teens. Because of that influx of older users, it's likely that grandmas and grandpas are on Facebook. I lament the loss of written communication among loved ones. So, if you have a hard time getting your children to write a nice letter to stay in touch with their grandparents — or other extended family — as much as you would like, Facebook can be a good compromise. If grandparents and grandchildren are friends on Facebook, it can be an easy way for each to keep up on happenings and events.
Talk with your children about how they feel about their grandparents making comments online. If they scrunch up their nose, you may need to have a brief chat with grandpa to advise him to use restraint when it comes to commenting on every post your child puts on Facebook. By following one another, loved ones will gain wonderful insight to personalities and can even use social media to be a great source of support.
As I've written about and analyzed popular social media networks, I have realized that in my personal experience, I have the least chance of coming across something inappropriate on Facebook. I wrote previously about how searching for workout videos led Instagram to recommend videos of very scantily clad people. No thank you.
I have about 600 friends — who are also my real-life friends — on my personal Facebook page. I have never come across an inappropriate post on my feed (unless you include political rants, which I don't appreciate). If kids know the character of the friends they follow, it will be much less likely that they will encounter harmful material. Facebook isn't in-your-face about recommending additional content.
When a child first joins Facebook though, parents must use the same basic precautions they do for other social media:
Make sure the user is 13 years old, which is the requirement.
Talk with children about never sharing their passwords or personal information like their school name, address, or phone number.
Only accept friend requests from people who are your friend in real life.
Make sure privacy settings are set to friends and not public.
Have frequent conversations about the need to think before posting. I like to ask my kids to imagine their post will also go on a billboard in town and be featured in a school assembly. Are they still OK with it?
But Facebook does have some unique aspects that make all users vulnerable to scams and malware. Talk with children about never clicking on suspicious links. They should be especially wary of click bait that features headlines like, "I was shocked…", or "You won't believe…" The good news is that if users are only following their actual friends, these scams should be few and far between. But, if any of those actual friends fall for one of these scams, then no doubt it will pop up on your newsfeed as well. Don't be fooled.
Remind new users that even if their account is set to friends only, anyone can send them a direct message that will appear in their message requests. Warn teens to never chat with people they don't know through direct messaging. I think by now most teens realize that people can pretend to be someone else online, but headlines of bizarre catfishing stories still pop up every month or so in the news.
Teens are fascinated with and immersed in new technology. Facebook points out that parents should be careful about dismissing social media as something trivial or a waste of time. It is important to our kids, and we shouldn't criticize what is such a large chunk of their social interaction. Just help them be careful out there in the big social media world. And remind grandma not to post too many cutie-pie comments on her grandson's posts.