Since I don't have any kids of my own that makes me an expert on telling other people how to raise their offspring. Today, I'd like to share a rather simple strategy for how to govern your not-so-little person's usage of social media.
First, say a conditional yes to whatever online community they want to join. Unless, of course, it's the Little Hitlers Society or a San Antonio Spurs Fan Club.
Second, in the event that you are a member of the same community, do not require them to "friend" you. Don't even ask them to.
Third, lay down this one rule that you will not compromise on:
Once a week (or at a slightly more frequent interval of your choosing) junior will agree to sit down with you at his/her PC or Mac to review and talk about one element of his/her profile in this community: their friends list.
Your agenda for tracking that one thing (and only that one thing) should be a rational one that mirrors the most basic good parenting strategies for the physical world. You'll be looking for people you don't know. If you don't know someone who is in your son's or daughter's online circle, then ask them about said person. "Who are they? How do you know them? Why are they your friend?" If your youngin' can't answer those questions to your satisfaction, then Johnnie or Tremaine can't be online friends with the stranger. Just like you wouldn't want them hanging around with Greg Popovich in real life.
You'll need to be very disciplined during these friend list review sessions. Resist the urge to ask to see other parts of shorty's profile. Instead, if you have your own profile, share that with them and talk with them about your own experiences socializing online.
If you don't have a profile on whatever site they want to join (or if you're still something of a social luddite), then track down stories where people said something online or posted a photo that came back to haunt them in a real way. Like getting fired. Or arrested. Or dumped by the love of their life who looks just like the vampire kid from Twilight. The point of the exercise is to train junior to recognize that s/he needs to be thoughtful about his or her digital footprint. Everyone is gonna act a fool sometimes. And you ought to give your kid the space to make mistakes. But you don't want the kinda crazy thing they did seven Fridays ago to derail their Senatorial campaign in 2032. Or their shot at a college scholarship a couple years from now.
That's it. Follow that one rule and you'll create a portal into your seed's online experiences. Odds are that, if you maintain a healthy dialogue in general, Johnnie or Tremaine will share something with you that happened on Facebook that is not germaine to their friend list. Even if they don't, you're still doing your job. And that's really all you can do. Online or off.