Thanks to Facebook, “friend” has become a verb. It’s no wonder, then, that even the youngest children know about the social media site – and many who should not be already are a part of it. For that reason, and others, Facebook safety for kids has become an important topic.

According to a Consumer Reports survey published in the magazine’s June 2011 issue, more than one third of Facebook’s 20 million minor users (i.e. people under age 18) who used the site in the past year were younger than 13, the age in which you are allowed by Facebook to register. More than 5 million of these 7.5 million underage users were age 10 or younger. One million of these children were harassed, threatened or bullied on Facebook in the last year.

What makes these statistics more disturbing is the fact that parents seem ambivalent to the potential dangers. According to the study, just 18 percent of parents “friended” their child age 10 or under on Facebook, while 62 percent of parents were Facebook friends with their 13- or 14-year-old. Essentially, these children were online unsupervised and uninformed, said Paula Bloom, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta who blogs on Huffington Post, and frequently writes and speaks about social media.

“There are things [happening online] that parents don’t understand,” she said. “There have to be boundaries. You have to know what your kids are doing.”

What, then, are the best ways to keep your children safe on Facebook? Bloom offers these tips:

  • Be familiar with the site’s privacy policies. According to the Facebook Help Center’s page for parents and educators, children under age 13 in most countries are prohibited from creating an account. As Facebook knows how old a user is (if he or she enters the right birthdate, of course), the site has different default privacy settings for young users, many of which keep posts by users ages 13-17 visible within the “friends of friends” circle rather than visible to anyone on Facebook, the default adult user setting.
  • Keep the computer in a common area so you are able to see what is happening. Do not allow your child to Facebook chat with a webcam without an adult present.
  • Make sure you are on your child’s list of friends and that you can control your child’s circle of friends on Facebook. “Approve anyone who is going to be a friend of your kid on Facebook,” advised Bloom, adding that often, strangers can appear as “friends of friends” and the child can then think she must approve the friend request.
  • Recognize you will still not know all that your child posts on Facebook, as he can “hide” things from you. So “cultivate a relationship of openness,” Bloom said, which means talk frequently with your kids about Facebook safety, privacy, photo sharing and other online issues like cyber bullying. Do not lecture, Bloom added. “Don’t tell your kid; listen to your kid. We do too much talking.”
  • Get your child’s Facebook password, but tell her you will not use it unless you have probable cause. If she does not obey your Facebook safety rules, you can have her account deleted.

To keep your children safe on Facebook, remember that even though you are their friend on the site, you are their parent in real life, said Bloom. That means you set the rules even if your children balk. “Even if they don’t understand why you are doing something, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” she explained. “Tell them, `I’m doing this to keep you safe.’”

Got other tips for Facebook safety for kids? Leave us a note in the comments below.

Facebook safety for kids
Thanks to Facebook, "friend" has become a verb. It's no wonder, then, that even the youngest children know about the social media site – and many who should n