As we're walking across the park I warn my 14-year-old cousin about the toddler's bike directly in front of her. You see, her head is down and her fingers are typing away, a typical mode of walking among the Facebook generation. With each step she tells her thousand-odd "friends" what she's doing on a weekend trip into the big city. Her 16-year-old sister is in tow, although she's looking up long enough to notice large obstacles in her path.
While both teens are visiting Toronto, on a weekend trip away from PEI, it's increasingly clear that the world's number one social networking site is like looking in a mirror for them. Each moment, from manicures to milkshakes, is neatly catalogued in text and photos for their network back home on the Island. The girls, like others their age, rely on Facebook not only to keep in touch with friends but also to connect with their family. It's an extension of their lives.
Unlike some adults who may see their ongoing obsession as a self-absorbed digital journey, I have to admit that I'm enjoying peeking into how they use Facebook. Not only do I know what they're doing when they're out of my sight for a few hours, I also feel closer to them since they do share so much. However, I am aware that social networking -- like everything -- should be done in moderation. Therefore, I sat with them down to come up with a list of five tips for staying safe on Facebook this summer. These are their recommendations, but I agree with them wholeheartedly:
- Check your security settings on Facebook on a regular basis so you only share your online life with people within your own network.
- Make sure you keep your home address and phone number offline. If you need to give your digits to someone, try messaging them privately.
- Understand that your boss or potential employer can easily see what you've posted, so keep your page PG.
- Delete inappropriate comments that your friends post and talk to them about helping to keep your Facebook page clean.
- Be Facebook friends with your parents. As much as it might be scary to let them see what you're posting, it's easier if they're part of your network so they don't have to guess what you're doing online.
- When typing on your mobile device, don't walk into poles, bikes or small dogs.
One thing they didn't touch on is Facebook bullying. When I asked them about it they assured me that their schools were very involved in helping victims and there was no tolerance for such activities. The last thing we discussed is trying to find balance. In other words, it's important to look up once in a while so you enjoy the life in front of you -- and you see the toddler's bike in the way.