Image: The Facebook homepage
Nicholas Kamm  /  AFP - Getty Images file
Among the things to remember when on Facebook with your college-age child:  If you post to his or her wall, anyone visiting his Facebook page will see your message.
updated 7/16/2012 10:01:47 AM ET 2012-07-16T14:01:47

College is a huge milestone for both students and parents. Kids are exploring the world, using new tools, and experiencing brand new things. As a parent, you have to deal with their leaving the nest, growing to adulthood, and entering a new lifestyle. It's tough to watch kids walk out the door, especially when a big part of what's going through your mind is "How will we stay in touch?"

Social networks like Facebook help you keep in constant touch with your college-bound kids. College students post a lot of information to Facebook, including pictures, blog entries, song lyrics, and relationship announcements, making Facebook a very thorough way to stay updated with what your child is up to.

This flood of information is a boon to parents who want to know how their children are doing, but it comes with its own perils and pitfalls. This guide will help you think about the etiquette, niceties, and do's and don'ts of interacting with your college kid on social networks:

  • Do remember that your child's friends will see information you post to his or her wall. Facebook isn't email or one-on-one chat. If you post to your child's wall, anyone visiting his Facebook page will see your message.
  • Don't be afraid to use the message system to send quick updates, email-like questions, and other notes to your college student. After all, that's exactly why it's there. Just remember that your child might not be able to respond quickly.
  • Do talk to your child about their Facebook and online interactions becoming a lasting record of their life. Whileprivacy controls for Facebook do exist, we know that 1 in 3 people regularly snoop through social network data.
  • Don't forget to practice Internet security methods yourself, whether posting on your own page or on your child's wall.
  • Do learn how to use video chat to talk to your college student. It's fast, easy, and a surprisingly personable way to keep in touch.
  • Don't assume that just because Facebook shows your child online, he's actually at the computer. After all, students frequently leave their computers online and powered up even while away from their desks. If your college student doesn't reply right away, she may not be at the computer.
  • Do work out the "ground rules" of using Facebook to interact with your college student — and his friends — as soon as possible. For example, do you Friend all of your child's friends? That could quickly become a daunting task due to volume, and you should figure out if it's even appropriate. A little communication ahead of time could save a lot of frustration.
  • Don't hover, harangue, or harass your kids in front of their friends. Facebook interactions are a lot like hanging out for a lot of people. Give your child space to do his own thing; while you may be a pretty cool Mom or Dad, chances are good that he wants to do stuff without you watching his every move.
  • Do encourage your child to have fun and make friends.

The hardest part: What you didn't see before
One of the hardest parts of following your child's life on social networks is the new and open view you'll get of his life. You'll see pictures from parties, casual interactions with friends, and moments of growing, pain-inspired angst. It'll seem tumultuous, rowdy, and sometimes inappropriate. The bottom line is that you'll see behavior and a side of your college student that you almost certainly wouldn't have at home.

Being privy to this new side of your child can be surprisingly tough and even a little troubling. While dealing with their behavior will rely on your own parenting technique and relationship with the college student, remember that anything you say or post on your child's Facebook wall can be seen by the public (private and instant messages, however, are not). It might be best to talk to your child offline, either on the phone or in person. Expressing your concern about troubling behavior is probably best handled away from the public face of a social network.

Remember that the Internet moves fast
Some of the big changes in your child's college life comes from the inherent speed and high-contact nature of the internet and social networks. In a lot of ways, a Facebook post from a week ago will feel like ancient history to your child. It's not unusual for college students to post 15 (or 50!) status updates each day, and then comment dozens of times on friend's posts, games, and Facebook-connected apps.

This amount of volume can feel bizarre to a parent who isn't accustomed to life on the internet, and your child's volume of interaction on Facebook might make it seem that he's neglecting other duties. That's not necessarily the case. It's common for veteran Facebook users to post a status update while standing in line, walking, waiting for class to start, or at any other idle moment. Since college students snatch these idle moments when they're available, your student isn't necessarily making judgments about with whom to network. He's just talking to whoever is at the top of the social stream at the time.

You can use Facebook to stay in touch with your child while he's off at school, but it's important to keep in mind everything you post on Facebook walls is public. That includes things your student might share with his own friends. In the end, talk to your son or daughter offline about your Facebook interaction. A little conversation goes a long way.

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