As a parent, one of your duties is to monitor the things your child does online. Until a certain age, keeping tabs of what your child does is certainly not prying, although they may try to convince you that it is. If you don't trust your child to let him or her go to the mall alone, he or she is still to young to be online without supervision. Yet many parents don't follow these ideas. They think that their child is invincible as long as they are behind the safety of a computer screen. The truth is - they aren't. In fact, they're less safe.
A recent trend that is popping up online is kids having a Facebook account without their parents knowing it. I have to admit, I even wrote an article about how to have a Facebook account without your parents knowing. I regret that that information can be used by younger audiences. My original intention was to aid older kids (think age 16, 17) in connecting with friends when their parents are unwilling to even talk about Facebook and understand new trends. It can also be used by other audiences such as employees who want to hide from a boss, and for that reason, I am not going to remove it at the moment.
Since I realize that Facebook poses a risk to children who are too young to understand privacy settings, I am writing this article for all of you parents who just have that notion that your child is on Facebook, but can't seem to get a straight answer. Never forget - you have a right to know what your child is doing on your computer, on your network, in your house. So, that being said, let's enter sleuth mode and begin this chore.
Can Your Child Even Be on Facebook?
How old is your child? The first step to deciding how you want to approach this situation is to know if your child is even allowed to have a Facebook account. Here's the rule: your child must be 13 years of age to use Facebook or its services. This isn't just Facebook being mean - it's actually a federal law that prevents them from collecting information knowingly from anyone under the age of 13. So what do kids do? They do the obvious: they change their birth date. You can argue all you want about whether a child is mature enough at 12 or 11 or younger to have a Facebook account, but the rules are rules. Obviously if you believe 13 isn't young enough, you probably wouldn't be reading this article.
So if you suspect your child is using Facebook and he or she is under the age of 13, I would suggest to you that the situation is a little more critical. Think of all the people online who would just love to illegally approach your child and you get where I'm going with this. The good news is that if your child is under 13, you have some better options of actually having his or her profile deleted.
Finding Out Through Social Engineering
I could sit here and give you exact technical steps for finding out if your child is on Facebook. While I will get to the more in-depth things in a bit, first I'm going to talk about something that doesn't even involve a computer. It's a tactic known as social engineering. Criminal hackers use it all the time because it is so much easier than actually hacking computers. All it involves is talking to the person you want to know about. Criminals would call you and pretend to be a representative from your credit card company to get you to hand over your account information. In terms of Facebook and your child, simply talk to them.
Begin by asking your child bluntly: do you have a Facebook account? In my experiences, many kids will actually just reveal the fact that they do right on the spot. If they do, and you haven't specifically told them Facebook isn't allowed, then I would advise against punishing them, since it's not technically disobeying. The next step is to discuss privacy, etc. with them and determine what to do with their account next. The best way to handle the situation would be to work on the privacy together. Here is a guide for securing a Facebook profile.
If you're child doesn't tell you they have an account, but you still have that gut parental feeling that they do, then you can try other social engineering techniques. You could talk to them and pretend as if you know they have an account. Sometimes when they know you know, or think they know you know, they're more inclined to reveal.
Still other techniques include listening to things his or her friends say around you such as "I loved that picture you posted," etc. Sometimes you can pick up a lot just listening to a conversation.
The Technical Methods
So social engineering your way to knowledge isn't fool-proof. Sometimes it just plain doesn't work. But if you know your child has an account, or even think you know, then it's time to move on to more advanced technical sleuthing methods.
The first thing I want to point out here is that there are a lot of ways to find out what your child is doing that can be considered very intrusive. I am going to try to steer away from those methods because they really border on creating trust issues, etc. So if you aren't skilled at using Facebook, check out some of my other articles if you have problems.
Just a Simple Search
A lot of people make things more difficult than they need to be. If you suspect your child is on Facebook, search for him before you spend hours doing anything else. Of course your child could have changed his or her settings to prevent his or her name from appearing in results, but there's a good chance he or she never even looked at their privacy controls.
The catch here is that you'll probably need a Facebook account to do anything more than a basic search. So head on over to Facebook and create an account for yourself. It'll make the whole process simpler.
Once you finish making an account, type in your child's name in the search bar and hit enter. Then narrow it down to "People" on the left side.
You can narrow down the results as you see fit, but make sure you search all the pages. If your child has a common name that yields 500 pages of results, just remember - you named him. If you come across profiles that don't have a picture, or have an odd image like the picture above, make sure you click the links and check them out.
As a side note, Facebook tries to determine who you will know based on your own information. So if you put in the same location, hometown, etc. as your child, the chances of him appearing in the top results are much better.
So as you're going through the list and you can't seem to find your child, don't worry. It's possible they aren't being displayed, or even that you saw their profile, but that since you weren't in their network, it looked like this:
Now that doesn't help you much does it? So if you can't find your kid through this method, keep trying these next ideas.
Searching Through Friends
Okay, so your child may be smart enough to lock down his profile, but I can guarantee you that all of his friends are not. Somewhere, you are going to find a friend that shares his or her photos, wall posts, and / or friend list. So the next step is to search for your son or daughter's friends, beginning with their closest friends first. If you find one, look for a profile that allows you to click pictures and wall posts. Browse through them and look for tags of your child. Notice in this next image that "Wall" and "Photos" are available that you can click them. Sometimes, profiles share this information.
Also, look for profiles where you can see a list of friends. Even you aren't friends with that person, some profiles allow you to browse the list of friends.
If you click "See All," you will be able to browse through a list of all the friends of that person. I really advise against friending your child's friends. It's frowned upon, and depending on their age, it may be taken oddly by both the kids and their parents.
If you still can't find your child through this method, your going to have to start making friends. A lot of times, people share their information with friends of friends. The more friends you have, the better chance you'll stumble upon something that indicates your child's presence. Now, I am not contradicting what I just said above, I would not friend your child's friends. Instead, you can should search for friends who are adults. A surprising number of adults have accounts and are friends with their kids. Eventually, the trail may lead right to your son or daughter.
The more naturally you use Facebook, the better chance that you find your child. Don't friend hundreds of people just for the fun of it. This method may take time, so while you're waiting try some more of these ideas.
Venturing Beyond Facebook
Sometimes to find the information you need about Facebook, you'll have to look beyond Facebook. If your child uses a public computer in the house, you have every right to check the history on that computer. Remember that you're child is probably capable of clearing the history, but nonetheless, it doesn't hurt to look. Open up your browser and click the control button on the keyboard (CTRL) and the H button. Browse through and look for suspicious entries.
You may have heard about checking something called "cookies." These are basically small files that a website stores on your computer when you visit the site. I highly recommend that you NOT rely on these because Facebook has widgets and bits of code all around the internet. It's highly possible that you have cookies from Facebook, even if you've never visited the site a day in your life.
If you still can't find your child's account, you may have to come to the realization that he or she doesn't have one. You may have heard a friend of theirs say that they "loved the Facebook picture," but remember that it's possible there are pictures of your child online, even if they don't have an account. The thing that I am trying to stress most in this article is that the only way to know for sure, is to have an honest, open relationship with your child. Talk to them about internet safety, and try to keep track of what they're doing as best you can. Here is an article about the various ages of childhood and what that translates to in terms of internet use.
You may never know if your child has an account. You can try everything in the book, short of installing software on his or her computer (which I'm not going to talk about because I feel it is more damaging than helpful). It is so so important to have a good, honest relationship with your child.
So earlier I talked about users under the age of 13 being illegal. If you're child is under that age, it is really important to find them and disable their account (assuming you want to). Thankfully, Facebook has a feature that allows you to report underage users and have their account disabled. Here is that link: http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=937
Hopefully this article has taught you a few things. Honestly, as a parent, it is important to keep track of what your child does online (reasonably until a certain age). I hope that you understand that I am not advocating over-reacting parenting or super-controlling parenting. Instead, I am trying to help parents who know their children are on Facebook and need to find them in order to help set up their privacy in a more secure way or to educate them on safety online. In this day and age, you can never be too careful about online behavior. Good luck!
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Tal on July 22, 2013:
You don't need to be a Facebook expert ! Just download app called FB Stalker and you will know what your kids are doing on Facebook (and also be notified the moment it happen)
Lexi on January 20, 2013:
Parents need to hold back, fair enough if your child is 4 and had facebook but if there 13 &older they need to except the fact that facebook is popular for teens and that you can never stop them from making a account so the best thing to do is to let them have it so then your child is more open and honest with you and not doing stuff behind your back :) k
Carol on March 30, 2012:
What if my cild is not ubder 13 but is a teenager who is spending too much time on facebook and you want to take him off until a certain time. What do you do?
iLIKEderpyMINECRAFThouses on March 22, 2012:
Parents need to cool their jets, and calm down. If your kid is under 13, then you take some action, if he/she is older than 13, keep to your self!
-_- on January 23, 2012:
Honestly, Parents need keep themselves to themselves, I hate people trying to know what i do and such. So please get a life and stop bugging your kid.