Facebook and Children

Eeyore's Backpack (Backpack Books)Denisa told me last night that TRC has asked her how old he needs to be before we let him on Facebook. That sort of took me by surprise. I mean, the kid’s only 7. It hadn’t even occurred to me he might know what Facebook is, let alone have a desire to go on it.

I looked at Denisa and said I was pretty sure Facebook had some rules about age limits, but I’d look into it. Step one is figure out what’s okay with Facebook. Step two is figure out what’s okay with us. So. Step one was pretty easy. Facebook has a pretty hard line statement on its policy page:

No information from children under age 13. If you are under age 13, please do not attempt to register for Facebook or provide any personal information about yourself to us. If we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13, we will delete that information as quickly as possible. If you believe that we might have any information from a child under age 13, please contact us through this help page.

So if you’re under 13, you shouldn’t be on Facebook. Seems clear, except it isn’t. I read this other article this morning, detailing how a recent study found that there are 20 million Facebook users under the age of 18. Of those, 7.5 million of them are under 13. Worse yet, 5 million of those are under age 10, and parents aren’t really monitoring their Facebook use.

First off, Facebook–you might have a problem. You clearly do a bad job enforcing your policy, if this sort of info is so easy to track and come across. But putting blame on Facebook aside for a moment, let’s look at parents letting their children use Facebook. I see a number of red flags for Facebook use and kids:

  • While better than Myspace was, Facebook users still get scam emails sent to them, scam messages, phony friend requests, etc. Children are notoriously clueless when it comes to giving personal information out on the web. They also like to click first and ask questions later. Put this propensity in front of a Facebooker, and you’re opening your computer up to all sorts of nasty viruses. More importantly, you’re opening your kids up to all sorts of nasty individuals–especially if you don’t monitor their Facebook use.
  • Privacy rules on Facebook are notoriously difficult for adults to wrap their heads around. Kids just aren’t going to be able to know how to safely store their personal information online. If that info is public, then you have no idea who’s looking up your child, and who can find their age, address, favorite band, school–you name it. That scares me. Am I alone in that feeling?
  • If parents aren’t monitoring kids’ Facebook use, I’m willing to bet a slew of them aren’t monitoring their kids’ internet use, period. I’m sorry, but the internet is no place for a child to be wandering around willy nilly. There are some seriously messed up parts of the internet, and they’re all only a click away if you don’t filter. Regardless of the age of your child, knowing where they’re going online seems just as important to me as knowing where they’re going in person. Maybe more so.
How old does TRC need to be before I let him on Facebook? At least 13. I think that’s actually a pretty good age–but even then, I’d have rules about me having his password and being his friend. And yes, I plan to regularly snoop on where he’s been and what he’s been doing. I have a filter, and I use that filter. I don’t view this as restricting my child. I view this as good parenting.
I’m sure many parents are out there shaking their heads, thinking I’m being over protective or too restrictive. Kids are just going to go online at school or at their friends houses unsupervised, right? Maybe. I hope TRC will understand and respect family rules. He does right now, and it’s great. But I feel like a parent has to do all he or she can to ensure the safety of his or her child. I wouldn’t let TRC wander around New York City by himself. Why would I let him go online without at least keeping track of where he’s been?
Is Facebook a seedy, awful place? No. But it’s more dangerous than people think. I’m not saying you need to follow my advice–but I do think you should have a sit down with your kid, regardless of the age–and at least discuss what’s out there and see if they have questions. Don’t have absolutely no policy whatsoever on kids and the internet. At least have thought it out some and know what you’re letting your kid do and why.
Anyway. Didn’t mean to be preachy, but it just seems often that parents these days don’t “understand” online environments and technology, and so they choose just to ignore them.
What about you? Do you have a policy about Facebook and your children, or about the internet and your kids? How many of you filter? How do you keep your kids safe? Do share.

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