THE BLOG

Facebook's Moment to Lead

05/25/2012 11:10 am 11:10:02 | Updated Jul 25, 2012

After a long work week, I eagerly anticipate an enthusiastic greeting from my children upon my arrival home. Instead I discover one child deeply engrossed in a game of Wii, another reaching for my iPhone, and my 15-year-old in her room, laptop open to Facebook, texting a friend on her phone. Later that evening, my eldest child arrives home, ear phones in music blaring. Suddenly he receives a text and he's out the door again. My utopian -- and admittedly antiquated -- vision of family life is shattered by the reality of raising kids in a digital age.

Kids are flocking online. More than 7 million of them under the age of 13 have joined Facebook. By the time my daughter is 18 she will have sent more than half a million texts. As a parent and a digital immigrant, I find this technology use daunting. Parents, we are conducting an experiment on our own kids in real time -- and we still have no idea what the effect will be.

As kids make their way online, they post private information on social media platforms, share millions of pictures and "check in" wherever they go. They tag photos and "Like" things, oblivious to the fact their actions are being tracked, all part of the Internet monetization strategy of "Big Data."

There are potentially troubling consequences to all this sharing, which is why many parents are wary of Facebook and other social networks. The impulse-enabling nature of social media, coupled with the inexperienced emotional states of young people, can be combustible.

Then there are the cyberbullies, ID thieves and data brokers who can access your child's social profile and use the information in damaging ways. Silicon Valley is using all kinds of tricks to coax kids into telling them more about everything they do: facial recognition, phototagging, Timeline, etc. It all comes at an ever-increasing social and emotional cost.

Adolescent psychologist Erik Erikson wrote about the importance of the teen years being a time for identity exploration and experimentation. This important developmental phase is dramatically twisted when identity experimentation appears permanently on one's digital record for all to see. When Facebook or other technology companies claim to own kids' personal information, it's clear how distorted the issue of privacy has become.

As a child advocate and a father, I would like to ask Facebook: If you can come up with features such as "facial recognition," why can't you develop an "eraser button?" Why do you need to track my kid and sell ads against them? Facebook claims to track consumers to optimize the user experience. My kids use the site to connect with friends, not so they can see ads. If the site wishes to exploit someone, choose adults - we know the difference between content and advertising; our kids do not.

The promise of digital media to transform ourlives is immense. But we must hold technology companies accountable for their contributions to a technology-reliant culture -- and insist they be part of the solution, so we can give our kids the safe childhoods they deserve.

This post is part of an ongoing series about families and technology. Read more about what parents and kids should know here.