Three years ago, Valley resident Linda Fogg Phillips forbade her eight children to join any social networking websites. She didn’t want her kids to be exposed, and she thought she was protecting their privacy.
Today, her kids call her “queen of Facebook” and she’s “friends” with all of them. She’s also working on her second book about Facebook. Her first book, Facebook for Parents: Answers to the Top 25 Questions (Captology Media), coauthored by her brother, BJ Fogg, director of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, was published this year.
It’s a big change in just a few years. It all started when her brother mentioned to Fogg Phillips that her 17-year-old daughter had a new boyfriend. She knew nothing of this.
“I said, ‘What? What do you mean a new boyfriend?’” Fogg Phillips says. “‘I didn’t even know she had an old boyfriend. What are you talking about? She lives here in my home. You’re out in California, how do you know that?”
He said Fogg Phillips’ daughter posted it on Facebook. That, too, came as a surprise. She didn’t know her daughter even had a Facebook account.
“That’s when it hit me that to be a parent who’s really plugged into my kids’ lives and what they were doing, I also needed to be plugged into the virtual world, as opposed to just ignoring it, or thinking I can restrict it or I can control it,” she says.
So Fogg Phillips, a horse trainer by trade, immersed herself in the world of Facebook and began learning everything she could. After just a couple of months, her brother asked if she would help teach a series of classes at Stanford about the social networking site, aimed at busy parents with kids younger than 18. She agreed, and before she knew it she’d become an expert. That’s when she began the book.
Once Fogg Phillips started to understand Facebook, she began seeing it as a parenting tool, a way of staying in tune with her kids. She said that her own children regularly posted feelings on their walls that they wouldn’t or couldn’t express verbally.
One day, her 16-year-old daughter wrote a post about how much she missed her brother, who had died two years earlier. That gave Fogg Phillips a window into what her daughter was going through. She used it as an opportunity to initiate a conversation and discuss her daughter’s feelings. Other days, her kids will post that they’re having a rough day at school. When they get home, she knows to tread lightly, and she has a point of entry as she tries to find out what’s going on.
But in addition to using Facebook to communicate with her kids, Fogg Phillips sees her role as that of a teacher. It’s her duty to impart wisdom about the realities of Facebook—namely, the value of being discreet. She constantly reminds her children and others that college admission officers, school faculty, police, judges, job recruiters and many others use Facebook. And what may seem like a momentary comment or random photo could actually leave a lifelong footprint.
“The No. 1 thing parents need to know about Facebook is Facebook is not a private bedroom; it’s more like a front lawn. It’s a public space,” Fogg Phillips says. “Kids continue to try to tell their parents they don’t want them there because it’s their private space. It doesn’t matter what privacy settings you have; tighten them down as much as you want, but it’s still a very public space.”