The Problem(s) With Facebook and 12-year-olds

We were cleaning up the kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner and my sister in law asked me about one of the more common problems in the digital parenting realm – what to do about her 12 year old, who had opened a Facebook account without her permission. She was unhappy about the new account, and would not have agreed if he had asked permission. She has since grudgingly agreed to let him keep the account, and asked me my opinion.

facebook logo thumbFor starters, the fact that he opened an account without first asking is suboptimal (of course). We don’t mean to scold, but parents are well served having the first in what should be a long serious of social media and digital citizenship talks with their kids before the idea of opening an account enters a child’s mind.

The second issue is Facebook’s age limit, which is 13. My nephew lied about his age to join Facebook, which is not really okay. Add to that the fact that minors under the age of 13 are supposed to have greater protections over their personal data – that protection has been foregone by misrepresenting his age.

We are not saying either that as soon as a child is 13, Facebook or any other social media network is appropriate. We’d keep kids off who are under 13, and only allow kids 13 and older to join only once they are sufficiently mature to deal with safety and propriety issues as they arise. As a parent, you are the person best qualified to determine when this is.

On to monitoring – my sister in law has a Facebook account but rarely goes online. She assured me that she will be upping her online presence in an effort to monitor her son’s Facebook activity but I predict that this will be a challenge. Like most kids, my nephew is very adept at using his phone for online activity, whereas my sister in law tends to be online only when using a computer. If he is into Facebook, he is likely to be using it frequently, and she will only look occasionally.

She has friended her son so that she can easily track what he is posting on Facebook, but this will only work up to a point. Unless she has the login credentials for his account, she will not be able to see the private messages he is sending and receiving, or whether a private message will lead to an in person meeting.

A gateway to other social media? Now that she has signaled that Facebook is okay, and lying about your age online is okay, she should expect him to explore, and possibly open accounts on other social networks. Facebook is no longer where the action is for teens. For starters, his mom is on Facebook and watching. If he decides to join his friends on Yik Yak, or other similarly problematic social networks, there’s no way she is going to be able to follow and monitor him there.

If you do have an 11 or 12 year old who is already active on social media, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it was going to happen eventually anyway, but the younger that kids start online, the greater the parental concerns about safety should be. Even if you know your child is safe online, the pressure is on to instill good principles in him and frequently revisit what he is doing online and what may be inappropriate.



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