Two facts about Facebook: (a) Facebook doesn’t enforce its age limit, which is 13 years of age, and (b) many kids under the age of 13 have a Facebook account, whether their parents know about it or not.
A fascinating and nuanced debate broke last year on Quibly, the tech oriented question and answer site for parents, and the issue at hand is still worthy of discussion. In fact, as of last month, new answers were still being posted. The question posed was a simple one, and one easily answered (we think) by most parents who are actively involved in what their children are doing online.
At what age should children have a Facebook account?
We’re not crazy about the question as asked, because the stated age limit notwithstanding, we think that a child’s maturity level is a more important determinant of readiness than his or her age. That being said, the range of answers was surprisingly diverse.
The most popular response, in terms of “Likes”:
OK lets get real! There are millions of kids under 13 on Facebook. Most of them are having a good time online and are safe. A few are bothered by predatory adults and bullying peers – these tend to be vulnerable kids without the benefit of supportive parents.
A child of 10 could benefit from the social interaction and learning that FB offers, so long as he is protected by his parents. So, here’s your 3-point plan:
- Make a deal with your under 13 child that you must be his first FB friend. Then you can keep an eye of what he’s doing.
- Learn the FB privacy settings together, so he can make his profile visible to FRIENDS ONLY.
- Teach him how to check out friend requests and make a deal that he only accepts them when you are BOTH confident that they are safe. Then stand back and watch.
Treat this as a learning journey. Take every incident that arises as an opportunity to discuss with your child and improve his safety strategy.
If you’re OK with breaking the rules, there is a lot to like in this answer, but it is only sound advice if parents are thoroughly engaged and vigilant. It is safe to assume that a 10-year old user will not recognize a predator as easily as a parent might, or be able to react appropriately to an incident of cyberbullying, especially the first time it happens.
As a parent, allowing your child to be on Facebook means that you are taking responsibility for keeping them safe day in and day out. This also goes for kids 13 – 17, by the way. That is the deal you’re making.
Some more conventional opinions:
I don’t know why any parent would OK rule-breaking… I’m not saying they shouldn’t question and debate rules in life, but flagrantly breaking them with my permission, seems like very mixed parenting messages. Facebook isn’t designed with keeping kids safe in mind – that’s fair enough too, because kids aren’t supposed to be there. There are multiple places that children under 13 can be social online, Facebook isn’t one of them.
A ten year old may be able to socialize online, but he/she will have their whole life to do that. Is it really worth rushing the process?
What bothers me most about these “under-age” kids with Facebook accounts… is the example it sets. It tells the kids that Mom and Dad think its okay to lie about your age AND break the rules.
Kids having problems on Facebook is not RARE its common you just don’t hear about it…but I do. I know many parents are not telling other parents what is happening on Facebook because they are protecting their kids, and also embarrassed that they didn’t know what was going on, and that they let their kid on Facebook under age.
Debates such as this one are important if they only achieve one goal – to get parents thinking about how their children are using, or will use, internet resources in a safe positive manner. Whether or when your child uses Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat should be an active decision on your part. What kind of digital parenting strategy are you using?
You can read the full responses here.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.