It's easy to see why parents would want to keep tabs on who their kids are chatting up on Facebook, but it's not such an easy task to actually accomplish. That's because apart from small windows of time, such as the one that occurred for a few hours in May 2010, it's not possible to directly access portions of a person's private Facebook chats without his or her login information. In the evolving world of social media, this could change in the future. But for now, it appears chats are secure unless you're hacker-grade material.
So what are your teens doing online? All in all, the best strategy for finding out is simply to ask -- as long as they can be trusted to answer truthfully. But since not every parent has that sort of tested relationship with his or her children, it's not always an option. If your kids are careless and leave their Facebook accounts logged in when they aren't at the computer, there's always the off-chance you might be able to explore some of your children's personal chats. But even then, that's probably not going to get you very far: Kids can usually clear their chat histories, and only recent segments of conversations typically remain available at any given time. Plus, there'll almost certainly be some static if you're caught in the act -- potentially further deteriorating your child's trust.
A more reliable option for parents curious to see what their teens are up to online is monitoring software or hardware. You'll generally have to shell out a little scratch for these, but in return, the software will record your kids' keystrokes and create a log. Later you can search the log to make sure everything looks OK. Not all products work well with Facebook Chat, however, so you'll want to check out the reviews before you hit the download or order button. And unless your purchase is set up to take screenshots on a regular basis, you'll only be getting one side of the conversation, so it might be tough at times to tell what was being talked about.
But while parental spying is potentially an option, it's really best in most cases to just sit down with your teens and discuss topics like smart Web surfing, online predators, Internet privacy (or lack thereof) and cyberbullying. Teach them how to conduct themselves properly online, how to adjust things like privacy and profile settings, and let them know you're there for them if they need advice or assistance.
- "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety." The FBI. (Nov. 1, 2010) http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/parent-guide/parent-guide
- Bilton, Nick. "Facebook Security Flaw Publicizes Private Chats." New York Times. May 5, 2010. (Nov. 1, 2010) http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/05/facebook-security-flaw-publicizes-private-chats/
- Chansanchai, Athima. "Facebook users can no longer delete chat history." MSNBC. Oct. 13, 2010. (Nov. 1, 2010) http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/10/13/5285016-facebook-users-can-no-longer-delete-chat-history
- Feldman, Barbara. "Should You Friend Your Teens on Facebook?" Surfing the Net with Kids. May 27, 2010. (Nov. 1, 2010) http://www.surfnetkids.com/safety/should_you_friend_your_teens_on_facebook-48967.htm
- "Monitoring Software." CNET. (Nov. 1, 2010) http://download.cnet.com/windows/monitoring-software/
- Worthman, Jenna. "Facebook Glitch Brings New Privacy Worries." New York Times. May 5, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/technology/internet/06facebook.html?_r=1