If you have children old enough to be on Facebook, then you’ve probably had plenty of opportunity to use the platform to create “teaching moments” for your kids. There are the obvious lessons – “don’t post pics of yourself you don’t want your Grandma to see” and “don’t use foul language.” Other lessons include teaching your kids how to include or block certain groups when posting things that might be more appropriate for their friends.

But last week, I had a moment of real surprise as Facebook turned into not just a “teaching tool” but an actual parenting tool for issues beyond the obvious.

My teens, 14 and 16, have a mutual friend on Facebook. That child posted something very innocent about what they expected on their report card. But what followed was an entire public conversation between the parents and the child about how she would be “punished” if she did not get good grades on her report card with (wait for it … ) clothes from WalMart. The child stopped participating in the conversation but the parents did not stop there. They went on to say an even worse punishment would be clothes from Goodwill, which were “dirty and stinky.”

My children, who get all their clothes from WalMart and Goodwill, read this commentary and were completely confused.

“What’s wrong with Walmart?”

“What’s wrong with Goodwill?”

“What’s wrong with her parents?”

The easy answer would have been to explain that these parents were jerks. The difficult answer was to discuss value systems, materialism, capitalism, and the imaginary audience that Facebook provides for people to portray themselves as the top of the food chain.

We continued on into an engaging conversation about the recession, and how more and more people are focused on finding the better value, which makes places like Walmart and Goodwill great bargains – smart bargains. This conversation led to another about priorities – where we talked about how it was more important as a family to maintain a budget so we could take trips and do fun things together, rather than spend all our money on things like label brand clothing, etc.

I was surprised to learn that my kids cared very little about name brands, and they were glad to have moved from a bigger city where it seemed to be the only thing that other kids cared about. This is a discussion that would not have been created in any other environment, except for social media – where we are given the opportunity to peek into the lives of other people. While it caught me off guard to have such an in depth conversation about something my children saw on Facebook, I learned so much about how they perceive and use the platform with their friends and classmates.

I think it’s tough to be a child these days – social media adds an extra element of urgency to every activity, status update, and commentary. The very least we can do as parents is try our best to keep up and look closely for these types of teaching moments that go beyond the obvious.