My 12 1/2 year old daughter recently became more insistent about joining Facebook. "Everyone else in the 6th grade is on it!" she claimed. I knew the day would come and frankly, I am relieved it came when she is near to turning 13, the legal age she is allowed to join the site on her own, without me creating a page for her. At the same time, I don't believe she is socially mature enough to deal with the issues that arise when teenagers communicate in this way. The public nature, the 24/7 availability and the persistence of these networks worry me.
So, ironically, I turned to Facebook to ask other parents what they would do, whether they allowed their children to join before the age of 13. As usual, I got many "Just say no!" responses, often the knee-jerk reaction of well-meaning parents who want to protect their children. Bu I know from my research that this kind of approach can backfire; if you keep things away from a teenager they often want it more. And many children lie about their age or create fake profiles, so I didn't feel that was an option for me. Moreover, I want my daughter to "friend" me, and if she has a page I don't know about, I won't be able to quietly monitor her behavior.
But not everyone said no. Two parents of young boys told me their sons had been on for several years with no issues. One posted publicly while the other quietly messaged me. Online, the conversation seemed to get more heated. Defensiveness occurred. Finally, the parent who had bravely spoken up about allowing his child on the site posted the below -- I thought what he wrote was so great I wanted to share it (he's allowed me to repost).
- I for one think that it's our generation that has trouble navigating FB, not theirs. I know my kids are my source for answers. :) But I don't see how FB can be problematic as long as you have access and can monitor her page. There are many other far more dangerous social sites where kids/haters can post horrible things anonymously. Every generation's parents have to deal with some new "unknown" that a generation later we laugh over. For the 1950's, it was Rock N Roll music. The 1960's was the "epidemic" of marijuana smoking. In the 1970's, it was "violent" episodes of KOJAK that were warping young minds. In the 1980's it was the horror of rap music lyrics and images on MTV videos. The 90's maybe internet Porn? Who knows. I feel like once there's a movie about the creation of Social Networking, it's ancient history to kids. Plus, they communicate differently than we did. My child has NEVER used our home phone to communicate with friends. She doesn't have any of her friends' home phone numbers. She texts or speaks to them via videochat on her laptop. I think you've got a strong handle on the situation. But the good news for us parents is that we can share a generational tradition with our grandparents when dealing with our kids -- strong martinis. Makes everything seem so manageable.
In the end, I decided to create a page that my child can use if she did the following: 1) friend me; 2) charge her phone downstairs at night (so she would not be on Facebook all night!) and 3) go through all of the 6th grade curriculum that Common Sense Media offers free online on social networking sites. I will need to act as the teacher for these lessons since it's not yet offered at her school. The funny thing is that so far, she is not motivated enough to do the lessons so chances are she will turn 13 before she's done!
What love to hear your thoughts. If you have a child under 13, do you plan on letting them join Facebook?
Follow Yalda T. Uhls on Twitter: www.twitter.com/inthedigitalage