My 10 year old daughter pleaded to open her own Facebook account this week, claiming it would be an important way to keep in touch with friends over the summer and she likes to chat and share photos with family. I have mixed feelings and decided to give it a try and keep a close eye on her usage and the content that she and other kids post. Since underage Facebook use is an unstoppable phenomena, I want to make some suggestions for parents about how to take responsibility and keep your kids Facebook use HEALTHY.
Facebook requires users to be over 13 years old. However, there is no problem to lie, as many kids are doing. Consider how you feel about this and whether you want to condone your children “lying”, even if you feel it is acceptable for them to have a Facebook account.
Kids are not surprisingly imitating their older siblings and other older Facebook users and the kind of posts they may write,the surveys they answer and the photos they upload of themselves are sometimes inappropriate for their age. Do not get fooled into thinking it is “cute”. Bragging about having a boyfriend or sharing highly emotional expressions in a public social network pushes them towards dealing with issues they are not ready for and do not need to be exposed to. I found one of my daughter’s 4th grade classmates had posted a survey which asked the girls to vote about his looks.
2. Posting Personal Information
Kids reveal a lot about their lives in FB – they do this via Wall posts on their own pages and those of friends, they vote for what they “like”, join fan pages, they post videos and photos. A savvy user can easily piece together the multitude of information and make use of it. There is real risk involved and don’t be naive that these things won’t happen in your town. Simply telling kids to not “friend” strangers is NOT enough.
Kids may not be aware of or be concerned about the privacy settings and Facebook made significant changes whereby the default is to expose much of your PERSONAL information to public access. Users also unknowlingly open access when they allow certain apps on FB to access their personal information.
As my daughter”s “friend” on FB, I can reach many of her classmate’s family photos and learn a great deal about other children’s lives and their family’s life. I have personally learned about “friends of friends” with cancer, couples breaking up, etc – and these are people I do not know and they probably did not intend for me to know about their illnesses and love lives.
4. Insults and Bullying
Kids are more apt to be insulting on Facebook. And everyone can see the insult and join in. This is very different than a fight between two children on the playground, where they can not take it public and conduct surveys to see who is more liked…
5. Increased Computer Use
Facebook may increase overall computer use. You need to establish clear rules and limits.
Bottom line is that if you do allow your child to have a Facebook account, even if they are underage, you need to keep an eye on their use. The easiest way to do this is if you have your own FB and can be your child’s “friend”. This way, you will see everything they write and upload and can even see what their “friends” are up to.
You can also consider installing a web filter to help you limit time online as well as to filter websites that a child should view. You can also consider just blocking Facebook.