Judging from the millions of McCain and Obama supporters currently on Facebook, it’s clearly one of the most powerful networking tools on the web. Sure, Facebook is primarily a social forum, but if your teen is tech-savvy and safe, it can be an effective outlet in which she can promote a worthy cause, from environmental sustainability to political activism, and motivate likeminded peers.

Getting Started

Your teen can create a Facebook “page” that promotes a club or organization, which can be school-sponsored or created in her spare time with friends. (If it’s school-sponsored, she should confirm with her teacher or moderator that it’s okay to launch a page.) If her English class publishes a creative writing zine, for instance, she and her classmates may want to display poems and short stories online, or post videos of class readings or news links about favorite authors.

Or perhaps your son loves documentaries and independent cinema. With a film “group,” he can moderate discussions of literary adaptations and other flicks he loves, or promote the visual arts nonprofit for which he does community service. Whatever the cause, your child can model her page or group after an existing professional one. Budding environmentalists can check out the Student Environmental Action Coalition’s group for inspiration, while journalists can look at the Teen Ink Magazine group.

You build a page using the page manager application, and categorize it under a subject like “education,” “club,” “library/public building,” or even “public figure” – which is fitting if your daughter volunteers for a city official. A group is easily created, too, and can be labeled “just for fun,” “student group,” or “common interest,” for instance. Next, you add photos of your group in action, like shots of students combing the beach for trash, painting a church, or stocking cans at a soup kitchen. You upload video clips of events, rallies, and fundraisers. And you provide URL links to relevant sites, like your school website, an activist’s blog, or a nonprofit website. Animal shelter volunteers may include a link to the ASPCA, for example, while a young environmentalist group can link to the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change website for students.

Building Your Member Base

Generally, your teen should “add” Facebook users he knows in real life: classmates, school alumni, neighbors, or students he’s met in the community. Professional and institutional pages – like university pages – boast thousands of “fans.” Your child will probably not maintain a page with that many members. In fact, her group or organization will thrive with a selective and more loyal set of fans, rather than a larger, anonymous membership. If her group is composed of volunteers at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, for instance, it makes sense to recruit students only in Facebook’s Baltimore network.

Well-maintained group and organization pages are updated several times a week. Your teen shouldn’t bombard members with too many messages, event invitations, updates, or “wall” posts, however, and should respect members’ privacy. (She should never republish private information about another student on the page’s wall, like a phone number or school schedule.) It’s also her job to monitor discussions and comments. If two members of a political activist club disagree about campaign advertising tactics and their comment thread becomes derogatory, your teen must address this interaction – or look to an adult mentor for assistance.

Staying Safe

Parents are wary of Facebook despite measures to improve safety. “Most adults did not grow up with the Internet and social networking sites, so the technological world teens live in can seem like a mystery,” writes Bay Area student activist Julia Ransohoff. “Many adults think such websites can be dangerous. For the most part, Facebook can be a safe way to stay connected as long as teens take special care to control their privacy.”

Your teen must have a personal profile to create a group or organization page. Fortunately, this individual profile can be “private,” accessible only to friends in his regional or school networks. A Facebook group can be closed to non-members.

It’s a wise idea to designate an adult facilitator for such a project, such as an older sibling, college-level mentor, high school alum, teacher, or parent. An alternative is a member of a more established group on Facebook rallying for the same cause. If your son is a local D.A.R.E. volunteer and seeks a moderator, he may find a volunteer in the “Say No To Drugs” group, for example, which has more than 12,000 members.

Whether your teen is passionate about the earth, the arts, or animals, Facebook can be an outlet to get her voice heard and mobilize peers. And, with guidance from you, her teachers, or inspiring activists, she’ll be able to use its technology to make a statement.