Of the projected 150 million Americans on Facebook, most of us fall into one of four styles of user. The "Broadcaster" uses Facebook to update all of her friends on the mundane and generally non-broadcast worthy events in her (or her child's) day. The "Scorned Lover" takes to Facebook like a drunk dialer to the phone. This user must later regret his bitter posts but his "friends" hope the posts never stop.
The "Self-Promoter" solely utilizes Facebook to drive more traffic to his blog or business. And then the "Lurker," usually we forget we've even accepted this person's friend request because they post an average of twice a year, typically still have the creepy egghead as their profile picture but secretly log on regularly to keep up with what everyone else is talking about.
Nielsen's recent survey results on how Americans use social media revealed that among American adults using Facebook, parents are more likely to be active users (Broadcasters) than non-parents. We treat Facebook like our own veritable e-happy hour or vent fest; we brag about our kids, we post cute holiday pictures or we seek sympathy after brutally long nights with sick children, bowel movement drama included.
With parents actively using social media, it is no surprise that children are using social media with more frequency at younger ages. The software company AVG found that among mothers with internet access, almost 70 percent of their 6-9 year old children were using children's social media sites like Webkinz. Such young exposure to the allure of social media paves the way for early access to more broadly used social media sites.
According to the Consumer Reports State of the Net survey, a startling 7.5 million children under the age of 13 are using Facebook. Talk with D.C.-area parents of children as young as 5th and 6th grade and you'll learn that many of them have children using Facebook, despite the rule that the youngest a child can open an account is 13.
Among the many questions to ask regarding the growth of such young kids on Facebook, one in particular seems to be overlooked: Should adults be accepting "friend" requests from children? Are we impervious to the consequences when we innocently accept these requests?
When we justify friending children on Facebook as a means of monitoring how the child is using the platform and who is approaching them online, do we remember that Facebook, unless carefully controlled through the privacy settings, is a two-way street and accepting a child's request means they can monitor our status updates with as much interest as we might monitor theirs?
With the emergence of social media, experts have spent time focusing on the importance of parents protecting their children from pedophiles and creeps in social media but what about the repercussions of innocent Uncle Johnny? Who's to say that he even remembers he accepted his 13-year-old niece's friend request nine months ago and now he's taken to Facebook as a scorned lover. Does the preteen benefit from having access to his status updates? Not to mention the wall posts that are beyond his control posted by his tail-gating buddies.
Furthermore, when we accept a friend request from another child, do we carefully weigh the potential consequences this "friendship" access can have on our own children? Kids can be cruel. By allowing another child access to your Facebook page, this child can then see every sweet thing you innocently post about your child, every cute picture, and every milestone moment and who's to say your child wants the neighbor's kid to know any of these things?
If adults are meant to act as role models and not friends to children in the real world, then why is it socially acceptable for an adult to accept friend requests from a peer's kid, a niece or nephew or a neighbor kid, in the online space? Have we virtually blurred the lines of friendship too liberally? And have we considered the long-term consequences facing parents of young children who today can't read, but in a few years, are on Facebook and reading our wall posts about our New Years Eve 2011 escapades? It seems to me that unless adults are willing to transform their Facebook status updates into Mr. Rogers approved life lessons, or consistently set aside time for maintaining carefully controlled privacy settings on their own pages, it should be considered irresponsible to consider a child a "friend" in this online space.
President Obama offered school-age children sage political advice: watch what you put on Facebook. Perhaps, as Broadcasters, Scorned Lovers, or Self-Promoters, we should more carefully scrutinize our own Facebook updates before we accept children as our "friends." Maybe only the Lurkers can responsibly accept a child's request because we know they don't ever post anything.
What do you think?