A Facebook kid dilemma
I was confronted with a difficult situation recently. My friend Janie asked me to create a Facebook page for her eleven year old daughter, Olivia. My first response was NO WAY! She’s eleven, still in primary school, a child.
Janie told me that Olivia had been pressuring her to let her have her own Facebook page for a while. She wondered if she was being unreasonable because it seemed all Olivia’s friends had profiles and Olivia was feeling socially ostracised (‘socially ostracised’ is my terminology the exact phrase used was ‘loser loner’). When Olivia came into the room I asked her why she wanted a Facebook profile and she said; “…because all this stuff happens online outside of school and I never have any idea what everyone’s talking about so I can’t join in the conversation.”
“What about Club Penguin (social networking site for younger children)?” I said.
“Oh please, that’s for kids,” said Olivia, with a rather melodramatic eye roll.
Ahem. Of course. My mistake. I told her I would get back to her in the next day or two.
I thought hard about it. Agonised over it, actually. It wasn’t because I don’t like social media or lament the loss of face-to-face communication that can occur. Nope. I’m a fan of social media, an avid user myself. I have a Facebook profile, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and spend way more time than I should on Empire Avenue. Social media is definitely the way of the future, or in my case and I’m sure many others, my reality now. I love technology and I’m always happy to help people to get online―I’d even created Janie’s Facebook profile for her (okay, mostly so I could chat to her online).
But Olivia is eleven. And we hear about predators lurking in the realms of cyberspace all the time. What if something goes wrong for her? It would be my fault. Argh.
You might think that it should be a clear decision. There is no ambiguity about Facebook’s age restrictions. You must be 13 to register for an account. Recent research states that 7.5 million Facebook users are underage, five million of these are under ten years old. And these are just the numbers where the user (or their parent) has responded honestly to the research questions. How many millions more do not own up to having an account?
Facebook requires no identification to join. You simply have to enter a birthday year that puts you at 13 or older. A child could do it. And clearly, with these numbers, they do.
I’m not sure the decision is as simple as suggesting Olivia waits until she is 13. I’m fairly confident that she’ll get on to Facebook herself before then, with or without her mother’s knowledge or approval. And I think the danger is greater when that happens.
Olivia is the stage of her development where the need to belong is strong. Her peer group is becoming more and more influential and her decisions are increasingly informed by them. The positive side is that she is talking to her mum about how she is feeling and what she wants and her mum is listening. Of course this may very well change once she reaches high school, but at the moment her mum’s influence balances that of her peer group.
Janie came to me because she knows I am comfortable with and knowledgeable about the technology and associated issues. She knows I could set up Olivia’s profile maximizing the security settings, and make sure her account is connected to her daughter’s so she can monitor it. If I set it up.
Eleven is too young to identify risk, but is a thirteen year old much wiser? My personal view is that such a social networking site should be for over 18s only, but that’s probably just my grumpy (old) woman coming through. The reality is, kids use social media―whether you are aware of it or not. And they don’t suddenly learn all the issues and risks when they turn 13. It’s akin to assuming that they suddenly know how to drive when they turn 17, so you put them in a car and say off you go. You just wouldn’t do it. The danger is too great.
There is merit to sitting down with your child when they (or you) are on Facebook and talking them through it, before they learn the POV (parent over shoulder) codes to warn off their friends. Learning social media etiquette, learning what is and what is not appropriate behaviour online will help children to recognise danger and it will go along way toward empowering them to deal with it when they come across it by themselves.
Would I be I doing the right thing by creating a profile for this eleven year old? I’m not sure.
But I do know that there are some basic tips that can help you keep your child safe on social media websites.
- Ensure you know your young child’s password
- Familiarise yourself with the security settings and ensure you revise these settings every time the site makes changes or updates
- Ensure the computer is in a public space where you can see the screen
- Ensure your child adds you as a ‘friend’
- Delete any unkind comments as soon as they appear
- Be very selective about adding third party applications to your profile
- And most importantly DO NOT ADD STRANGERS to your friend list