The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook “is developing technology that would allow children younger than 13 years old to use the social-networking site under parental supervision.” The paper notes that while that “could help the company tap a new pool of users for revenue” – which might please young Zuck since his stock has taken such a nosedive since the IPO – the idea has “inflame(d) privacy concerns.”
There’s a federal law that “requires sites to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal data from children,” so even if Facebook does allow users under the age of 13 to join, you shouldn’t have a hard time preventing your child from signing up for an account if you don’t want them to have one. Although according to Consumer Reports, in 2011 “7.5 million children under the age of 13 were using the site, including more than five million under the age of 10.” Zoinks. Additionally, “36% of parents were aware that their children joined Facebook before age 13 and … a substantial percentage of those parents helped their kids in the effort.” Which is why the site has been concerned recently about how to enable kids “to become legitimate users monitored by their parents.”
Ultimately, parents can’t control what Facebook will develop in terms of services for elementary-aged kids, but they can control whether or not they will allow their child(ren) to join the social network. Even with “extra protections needed to ensure a safe, healthy, and age appropriate environment” in place, as was suggested by the Maryland Attorney General, child advocates say that “Facebook should instead focus on explaining to parents and children that the site isn’t appropriate for use by children under 13.”
I totally agree. Here are 5 reasons why:
1.) I joined Facebook with the understanding that it is a website for adults. And so I post things on it that are not appropriate for children. I post many family-friendly things as well, but I don’t think most adult Facebook users are prepared or desire to censor themselves in a way that would make it easy for them to friend their kid/nephew/next-door neighbor or – gulp – students.
2.) Exposing very young children to the obsession and addiction that can come with a social media account just seems like a horrible idea. Pediatricians don’t think kids should have more than 2 hours of screen time a day. I’m sure at least one hour of that would be wasted on Facebook.
3.) I don’t want my daughter to experience her thoughts in “status update” format, or to be mentally scrolling through her friends and certainly not her family members. I want my daughter’s understanding of her world to be firmly rooted in the physical realm – something that I find challenging as an adult who did not grow up in an era when PCs were in the home.
4.) One word: marketing. Having a Facebook profile will allow children to be marketed to in a creepy, individualized way, not to mention the way they might be pigeonholed starting from day one based on the interests they’ve checked off online. Social media marketing has been proven to limit people’s world view, because you are only given “suggestions” for things that software understands you already like.
5.) Putting your whole life online is not safe. We all know the whole theory behind Facebook’s Timeline feature is that eventually a person’s entire life will be mapped from birth to death online using Facebook as a digital scrapbook. I’m not worried about stranger danger – I’m worried about a total lack of privacy and what the ability to recall what a 25-year-old did as a 5-year-old on an exact day at an exact time means for the future. Sure, we face these issues in the world of Mommyblogging, too, but on Facebook it’s different. Facebook is all about constantly updating the world about what you’re doing as you’re doing it almost all the time. An essay written by a mother about what milestones her child achieved this week seems much less harmful than update after update about where you are, who you’re with and what you’re doing.
Honestly, this whole thing makes me want to re-evaluate my own tendency to “overshare,” or as I like to put it, “share.” Because when you live an online life (and all bloggers do, no matter how anonymous or impersonal their sites are) you are constantly compromising your own privacy, hopefully in the name of a greater good. It’s one thing for an adult to choose that sort of existence, but is this something we should foist upon our small children? What do you think? Would you reluctantly allow or even encourage your young child to set up a Facebook profile?
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