The what, when, how and why of letting your kids on Facebook is a hot topic for moms. I’ve had several moms ask me this week to write a blog about it.
To be fair, I have to start this blog with a disclaimer…I love Facebook. Wait, I take that back. I love a lot of things, but Facebook? I don’t love Facebook.
I looooooove Facebook!
I’m telling you this because I understand that we don’t all come from the same place on this issue. For some parents Facebook seems like a little bit of a nightmare. There are some nightmarish things about Facebook, for sure, and I’ll touch on those, but first there’s just so much to enjoy.
Like for starters, my friends are hilarious. I had planned on proving this to you by offering as evidence some of the laugh out loud updates I’ve read recently. But when I cut and pasted them into this blog they became dry and flat. Apologies to my funniest Facebook friends. (You know who you are.) I had hoped to immortalize you here in this blog, but somehow your updates became lost in translation.
Which brings me to an important point.
Facebook is entirely relative because it is entirely personal.
My friends’ updates crack me up, but since you cannot “hear” their voice or know their back story, they might seem dull to you. Which is why, when I look at the Facebook page of a middle schooler, I am never much amused. Generally their status updates seem to be comprised of baffling private jokes and their wall conversations look something like this:
Multiply that out by about 30 more lines and you will have a good idea of what I’m talking about.
Bored? The point is that most of the time Facebook is really fun for the person using it and really not fun for the person observing someone using it. Just ask my husband.
Despite not appearing fun or useful or meaningful in anyway, kids on Facebook are working hard at doing something very important to them: Being Normal.
And the way they do that is by 1) collecting friends (or more accurately collecting names of people they have met… or their friends have met… and calling them “friends” and 2) affiliating with things that they feel define them as normal.
A middle schooler’s page is loaded with music, film, TV, comedy, and cultural “likes” that bind them in a club with other people whose taste they perceive as normal.
None of this is harmful and in fact, can help kids feel more connected with people and things they like. Which, in and of itself, is a good thing.
Except it doesn’t always work so nicely.
Facebook’s darker side has a lot to do with the perceived distance kids have from each other and the idea that because Facebook is often the primary mode of communication, everything is handled on someone’s wall.
For example: What kids call “fights” on Facebook pages are common. And though kids speak nonchalantly about them, to me they are horrendous. You might see an exchange like this on a middle schooler’s wall:
It’s both ridiculous and awful at the same time. Some other common, awful occurrences on Facebook include:
- Posting rude captions under photographs (often about girls’ bodies)
- Random friends chiming in with comments during a Facebook fight
- “Sarcastic” infighting, or snarky-mean banter between friends meant to be playful but probably hurtful
- Posting pictures of people without their permission, sometimes to upset them, sometimes with no ill intentions, but in any case without their permission (and yes, bathing suit pictures, always)
- Copying a chat (which presumably is a private conversation between two people) and pasting it onto someone’s public wall
- Using someone’s password to log into their account and pretend you are that person while writing comments all over Facebook
- Posturing for your audience by making jokes about illegal or immoral activities (like selling drugs or hooking up) only to realize a teacher has seen your page and you are now in serious trouble.
All this and more happens in the world of middle school Facebook.
If you are reading this and thinking “Ew!!…But at least there are only a small number of kids in middle school on Facebook so it’s not that big of a problem” then you should also know that most kids I know in Middle School have a Facebook page.
And I know a lot of kids in Middle School. It is most definitely de rigueur.
So what’s a mom to do? Coming from a mom who loves Facebook for herself but also has a rising 6th grade daughter who would very much like to be on Facebook, and isn’t yet, here is my advice:
Begin by creating a Pros and Cons chart for letting your child on Facebook. Here’s mine:
Pros of letting your child on FB
Cons of letting your child on FB
|FB is the standard method of communication among middle schoolers so he/she is more likely to get invited to social outings and school club meetings because most invitations happen through FB||He/she will be exposed to incidents of exclusion and other examples of poor social conduct.|
|He/she will be able to keep in touch with family and friends who live near and far. FB helps you feel close to people even when there is time and space between you because you get inserted into the details of their daily lives, making it easy to form a quick, personal connection with someone.||FB creates a permanent, searchable record for all the stupid, immoral, or illegal situations your child or your child’s “friends” create, accidentally or intentionally. Think college admissions officers searching here.|
|Connecting on FB gives you lots of ideas for easy conversation starters with people you’d like to know better.||Time spent on FB is time not spent learning the art of connecting in person, reading a book, running around outside, or breathing fresh air.|
|Being on FB allows you to find a community of people with similar ideas and interests.||Being on FB exposes you to lots of people who are immature, irresponsible and obnoxious.|
|As a parent, you have one more way of connecting with your child and staying in touch with the every day minutia of his/her life.||As a parent, you will lose one more part of your own, private “grown up” world. It began when their bedtimes crept past the start of your favorite shows, then their bodies grew and they started leaving the house in your favorite shoes, and now they are invading your online community of friends and private jokes.|
Ask yourself this: Are the pros easily replaced by other opportunities in life? For example, can your son or daughter reap these same advantages in another setting or through another medium? If the answer is yes, Facebook may be an unnecessary can of worms to open.
On the other hand, are the cons easily mitigated through preparation and education? If yes, Facebook may be OK for your child.
The decision of whether or not to let your child have a Facebook account is, of course, entirely yours. But, if you decide to say yes, here are some things you must do:
- Make it a requirement that your child “friend” you on FB so you can see there page whenever you like. No, this is not an invasion of privacy (other than yours). Whenever your child is exposed to a new tool, it is your responsibility as a parent to teach him/her how to safely and properly use that tool.
- Lock down some security settings. At the very least, your child’s page should be visible to “friends only”, never “friends of friends”. A quick Google search of “recommended Facebook privacy settings” will return all the info you need.
- Set some times constraints for how long your child can be on Facebook each day.
- Have a serious discussion about each of the following:
- Child pornography. Photos of scantily clad children (anyone under age 18) whether posted by an adult or another child are considered child pornography in the eyes of law. Many kids have gotten arrested for posting pictures on Facebook that they thought were funny but that the police thought were illegal.
- Permanent records. Let your child know that everyone from the family down the street who might hire them to babysit or mow the lawn to college admissions officers check Facebook pages to see what kind of person you really are.
- Social etiquette. Set some serious expectations for how your child behaves on Facebook. You shouldn’t punish your child for how his or her friend behaves (although you can discuss said friends’ behavior as a teaching moment) but you can certainly make it clear that if your child humiliates someone (including himself or herself) on FB they will have their account privileges revoked.
- Open door policy. I recommend you have an open door policy with your child about things he or she sees on Facebook. In exchange for your child coming to you with any questions or concerns about what he or she sees on Facebook, you agree to react calmly.
- Age requirements. Facebook has a minimum age requirement of age 13 and has the right to delete a page belonging to anyone under age 13. If you decide to allow your child to have a page before he/she is 13, you should explain that this is Facebook’s guideline but you are willing to make an exception because_____.
First, I have to get over my unwillingness to share. Knowing that most kids she knows will be on Facebook and that lot s of opportunities for social growth exist there, I have to just put aside my selfish desire to keep Facebook for myself. I’ll work on that.
Second, given a careful weighing of my child’s personality and my pros and cons list, I think the cons of Facebook can be mitigated through education and preparation. I have a sense of where the pain points will be and what we can do to talk about those areas before a problem occurs. I also want to teach my child how to use FB appropriately while she’s still listening to me. So I can foresee letting her have a page pretty soon. But I’m not going to allow it yet. I want to keep her world small for just a while longer. Going into middle school is a big enough social transition without adding one more complication. For now she can do without. Once she’s adjusted to the work and schedule of middle school she may get a “family members only” page (SO lame, mom!) for a few months just to get her acclimated. Then, she may be ready for the real deal. That may 7th grade. It may be 8th.
By then she will probably be ready. As for me, I’ll keep you posted.