Recently, Facebook announced that they were exploring the option of allowing children under age 13 to gain membership to the popular social media site. Though Facebook currently does not allow children under 13 to officially be a part of the site, a study by Minor Monitor indicated that nearly 38% of minors on Facebook are under 12. Acknowledging the large numbers of underage children already on the site, Facebook is considering a plan that would allow children under 13 to have accounts linked to those of their parents. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal hinted that part of this plan will involve parents being able to control who their children add as friends and which apps they are able to use.
Since social media seems to be a trend that isn’t going away, it’s likely that most parents will be confronted with decision-making in regards to Facebook before their child leaves the nest. Like many parenting issues, opinions vary wildly on allowing kids on Facebook. Tracy Nicholas sees no problem with allowing pre-teens on the site. “Why shouldn’t my 11 year-old be able to keep in touch with her friends and her cousins? She doesn’t have a Facebook profile yet because there aren’t parental controls. I was considering setting one up for her and controlling it myself, not because I don’t trust her, but I don’t trust the creepy people that I know lurk on Facebook. If they enabled this, I would definitely be waiting to sign her up. Socializing is important for 10-13 year olds, as they really start to form their own identities at that age.” Erica Lehmann has already created an account for her daughter, who is under 13. “I use it as a scrapbook of sorts for her – I tag her in photos and posts about funny things that she says and does. Of course, if I do choose to allow her to use it before age 13 then that usage would take place on a family computer, I would have her password, and her privacy settings would be locked down in a major way.”
Other parents are not as enthusiastic about Facebook’s potential bid for the younger set. “My daughter has been asking to be on Facebook because all of her friends seem to have an account. She’s only 7”, says Aracely Worley. “I am absolutely against the idea. I don’t want her participating in adult conversations or reaching out to my friends. Plus, it’s just uncomfortable for adults. I was friend requested by a daughter of a friend and it makes me very uncomfortable to be put in that situation. I feel like I have to filter what I say now. I think anyone under 14 has no business being on Facebook.” Similarly, Yolanda Machado says she won’t allow it. “I believe children should have a childhood that doesn’t involve being connected to a website 24/7 just to see what their friends are doing. Kids need to go outside and be kids, climb a tree or two.”
Regardless of what age parents deem acceptable for a Facebook account, one thing is clear: parents will need to help educate and supervise their children’s involvement in social media, the same way they would with real-life relationships. While it is likely that most kids will be exposed to the digital medium, kids should not start out with carte-blanche freedom on social media sites. Even if there are some kind of filters, a parent should always be supervising and aware of what children are doing online.
Here are some tips for parents who are considering allowing their children a Facebok account:
Make clear boundaries about what they can and cannot post. Help your child understand that the family rules in regards to profanity, modesty, and behavior are still in effect online. Help them be thoughtful about what they post, since it becomes public once it’s out there.
Require that they share the password with you. Being “friends” on Facebook is not a sufficient way to monitor children, since they can set post settings to make them invisible to you. When starting out, kids should have parental guidance, and that means sharing a password until they’ve proven themselves responsible.
Talk openly about online bullying. Discuss how they will respond and what steps to take if it occurs.
Educate your kids about privacy online. Help them with being selective about who they “friend” and discuss the pitfalls of oversharing online.
Change privacy settings for your child’s account. Facebook’s default settings tend to make most information shared available to the public. Parents can modify these settings so that only friends can view pictures, posts, and other interests shared on their page, and so that the user has to approve any tagged photos of themselves.
Turn off location-based settings. Facebook allows users to post their location whenever updating. This can and should be turned off for children for safety reasons.
Model appropriate behavior online. Chances are, you have a Facebook account as well, and just like everything in life, your child will be following your lead. Make sure you are appropriate with what you post, as they will be watching.