If you are a parent in today’s world, then you face enormous difficulties in determining what role technology should play in your children’s lives. Kids are surrounded by iPods, video games, and web-enabled devices from a very young age, and even if you manage to keep your own house reasonably tech-free, you are going to hear a lot of those “but-everyone-else-has-one” arguments. And then there is Facebook.
By the time children reach middle school, the cell phone battle has usually been won or lost – and these days, kids are the winners. However, the Facebook argument is a lot harder. On the one hand, Facebook’s own rules state that no-one under the age of 13 is allowed to have an account. In fact, opening an account for anyone younger than 13 effectively means lying about their age. However, this doesn’t seem to have stopped thousands of kids from doing just that – with or without their parents consent.
In many cases, parents allow Facebook accounts at an earlier age because they see an opportunity to teach their child first-hand about the right way – and the wrong way – to use social networking. That’s an opportunity that might not be there once they hit the magic age of 13 and dive into Facebook on their own. Other parents allow it on the condition that they hold the password and are friends with their child – an arrangement they hope will last well into their teens.
If you are trying to make a decision on what’s right for your child, here’s a reminder of some of the advantages – and disadvantages – of an early Facebook account:
- Social skills. Facebook allows kids to keep up with current friends and make new ones. When used in the right way, social media can increase a child’s self-esteem and help them feel less isolated.
- Self-expression. A Facebook page gives a child their own “home page” on the web, where they can express themselves and talk about their interests. They can join groups and support fan pages, and find out what other people are interested in.
- Digital competence. Managing a Facebook page teaches a child how to post comments and photos, and how to navigate the web. Having good online social media skills will be increasingly important as they get older.
- Educational development. A majority of tweens and teens use social networking to discuss school work. Shared discussions about school assignments is one of the best reasons to allow access to social networks.
- Kids can be mean. However much you school your child on the right way to behave online, you cannot stop other children from posting mean comments.
- A Facebook account is a gateway to the whole Internet. It’s impossible to isolate a Facebook account from the rest of the Internet – links and click-through ads are everywhere. If you think your child is too young to explore the Internet or cannot be trusted to remain within the Facebook environment, then a Facebook account is a bad idea.
- Beware of friends of friends. Often times it’s not your child’s friends that are the problem, it’s friends of friends. When your child accepts a friend request, make sure you check out their page and their list of friends. (If you are friends with your child, you need to be careful with your page too!)
Whatever your decision on Facebook, try and make the decision together. If you decide the time isn’t right, then agree a time when you can revisit the issue. The last thing you want is for your child to run off to a friend’s house and open an account on her own.
Monica Vila is TheOnlineMom -a community devoted to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation for the positive role technology can play in a child’s life. She’s constantly chatting on Facebook here or on Twitter @TheOnlineMom where you are more than welcome to join the conversation.
What is the right time for a Facebook account? Do you have a child under 13 with an account? What has been your experience? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!