A new course at Stanford University beginning on Thursday, Feb. 19 aims to bring parents into the relatively unfamiliar realm of social networking sites in order to make them more aware of what their kids are up to online.
The four-part course, titled "Facebook for Parents," is being co-taught by BJ Fogg, associate professor at Stanford and the author of "The Psychology of Facebook," and his sister Linda Phillips, whose background is business and marketing.
The three main objectives of the class, Phillips explained, are to keep kids safe online, help parents monitor the information their children reveal online, and teach parents that social networking sites can actually help their kids learn important life skills.
The hands-on classes, Phillips said, will offer a starting point for parents unfamiliar with the format of social networking sites.
Parents will be taught how to create their own Facebook pages, send "friend requests" to their kids, review the content on their pages, view who their kids are friends with, and monitor their kids' activities in the site's "News Feed" feature.
Phillips, who has several children ranging in age from 10 to 25, said she is "friends" with all of her kids on Facebook and said the site has helped her become familiar with her children's friends.
"This is responsible parenting, knowing who their friends are and who is involved in their life," Phillips said. "We're ineffective as parents if we are naive and ignorant."
Phillips said she has received mixed reactions to the idea of parents joining Facebook.
One young adult initially complained that she felt like her mother only intended to spy on her, but her attitude changed when she realized that her mother just wanted to be involved in her life, Phillips said.
Phillips said that when parents go online, many teens and young adults initially feel their space is being invaded -- especially at an age when they crave autonomy and independence.
This is something for parents to keep in mind, she said, and to be careful and respectful of the idea that their kids have a life separate from their families. Parents should simply use the site as an opportunity to establish rapport and trust with their children, Phillips said.
"Social networking is not going away. It is important that parents understand that and get up to speed," she said.
The "Facebook for Parents'' course is free and open to all parents. The course begins on Feb. 19 and runs through April 2. More information is available online at www.facebookforparents.org.