This week, we learned that Facebook is evaluating ways to allow children under the age of 13 to have profiles of their own. For those of you out of the loop, the company currently prohibits children and pre-teens under the age of 13 from having profiles of their own, but would now like to allow pre-teens to participate without having to lie about their age.
Well, I have news for Facebook, parents and anyone else out there who is interested. Not only are kids lying about their age to get access to Facebook but, yep, parents everywhere are aware of and are allowing their kids to lie. And, I must say that I have seen no positive benefits associated with getting a head start on Facebook.
Why, you may be wondering, are parents allowing this? There are many reasons, but I will fill you in on the three most common. Keep in mind that I am referring to mostly loving and well-intentioned parents here who mostly want to keep their kids happy. They list among their reasons for allowing a bit of lying: 1. Because their kids' friends under the age of 13 have Facebook profiles; 2. Because they don't want their kids to be out of the loop-dear God, that would be a shame! and 3. Sometimes it's easier to say yes than to argue and say no.
As a psychologist, mother and someone who cares about kids' well-being, I suggest that we collectively resist allowing our pre-teens to access Facebook, regardless of what the company decides. Frankly, I am not at all concerned about the company's motives for this youthful push. Perhaps they are concerned with expanding their audience and hence profits. Yes, they are likely concerned about revenue streams. I, on the other hand, am concerned about what is streaming in the minds and hearts of our kids. There is, in my opinion, not a single reason to relax the age ban that would be beneficial to the kids themselves.
Pre-teens do not need earlier exposure to sex, drugs and cyber-bullying. They will get plenty of exposure as time passes. There are no heads up or legs up needed here. I hope that their introduction to sensitive and tender topics will not be via technology but rather from the trusted adults in their lives who both talk to them and look into their eyes to monitor their reactions to see how much information they can handle.
Without simplifying matters too much, I suggest "just saying no." Sometimes the hardest things to do with our kids are the right things. And, yes, parents do need to become more comfortable absorbing and dealing with their kids' anger. In the event that Facebook does move forward with a plan to allow pre-teens to have their own profiles, then we should stand firmly and collectively on the same ground and encourage our kids to do something other than get plugged in electronically at an even younger age. YIKES! Cyber-bullying, obsessional behavior, exposure to sexuality and substance use can wait. Am I in good company?