It seems like children are oh-so eager to grow up, from little girls borrowing their moms’ shoes and lip gloss to little boys acting like soldiers or firemen. It’s all harmless play and part of growing up. However, now there’s another adult part of the world children are eager to embrace: joining the popular social-media site Facebook. They see us parents having fun with it and they want to take part, as well.
For their safety, Facebook requires users to be at least 13 years old, but of course, there are ways around this policy. It’s all too easy to put in a false birth date, and some parents even help their underage children join up. Facebook is constantly kicking underage users off the system.
However, even after kids pass that milestone birthday, Facebook can be a tricky proposition for kids who now have to face privacy issues, become responsible for things they post and combat the threat of cyber-bullying. As if teens don’t have enough pressure in their lives!
The Dangers of Facebook
Are 13-yers-olds really ready to handle everything that comes along with Facebook? A major issue Facebook users have to deal with is privacy. The social-media giant has relaxed its privacy rules for teens, giving them the option to share photos, comments and updates with other users and the public. This makes it easier for strangers to view this information. In addition, teens can also allow other Facebook members they are not friends with to view their posts by turning on the “Follow” option.
Confused or concerned about the new privacy settings on Facebook? Many people are. The new policy seems to make it easier for strangers to find out too much information about your child. It’s helpful to gather as much information as you can about these new privacy settings so you and your child know exactly what you’re getting into. It can be unsettling to think that your child’s posts could be seen by thousands of other users.
This brings us to another facet of Facebook usage: responsibility. Teens may have a hard time understanding that what they post can have serious consequences. An angry rant about a parent’s boss who gives too much overtime? Commenting about how good-looking a teacher is? Posting party photos where underage drinking took place? These things can lead to major consequences, such as firings, false accusations or police investigations. The virtual world is all too real, something children may not be ready to handle.
Facebook has a guide to help parents of teens understand the ins and outs of posting, and encourages them to guide children who have a page. This is a good effort on their part; however, sometimes it’s not your child who’s causing the problems. There’s yet another pitfall faced by teen Facebook users, and that is cyber-bullying.
Bullies are not just found in the classroom anymore, as today’s kids can attest to. They can post mean things to your child’s Facebook wall or spread false rumors about them. This is a particularly nasty form of bullying because what is posted can be so quickly passed around among peers. It can be emotionally devastating. Facebook has responded by creating a bullying-prevention hub in an attempt to keep teen users from leaving the site.
With all of these potential pitfalls, is it at all safe for your child to create a Facebook account?
Playing it Safe
If you decide to let your child create a Facebook account, you need to ensure his or her safety. Make sure privacy settings are set up properly so no one but friends can view posts and photos. Select the “Friends Only” setting. Make sure your child does not post where they live and leaves the “location” setting blank. Be sure you have an honest talk about what is appropriate and not appropriate to post on Facebook, such as harmful photos. Make sure they never disclose where they are going or if the family is leaving for summer vacation. It’s all about safety.
Have your teen “friend” you so you can monitor what they are posting. Also, have them sign a contract agreeing that if any of these rules are broken, they will be banned from Facebook. You can also take it a step farther and have your child share his Facebook password with you.
Is 13 too young? It’s a matter of opinion, but if you feel that way then your child has to respect that. Explain your reasons why, such as the dangers posed by predators or bullies. Maybe you can compromise and let your child join when she enters high school. Just make sure all rules are understood and agreed to ahead of time. Facebook can be fun, but it can also pose challenges. If you’re clear and upfront about what’s expected, and your teen is mature enough to handle it, Facebook can be an enjoyable experience.