Ok so here is my confession. My kids are both underage Facebook users and I condone it and, according to Mike Flacy, The New York Times and my children’s friends list, I am not alone. I have occasional pangs of bad parenting guilt but generally I think the benefits outweigh the problems.
- We are part of the international community and therefore my children qualify in the TCK category. Facebook allows them to easily keep in contact with friends in a transitional community making goodbyes easier.
- Keeping in touch with family is easy and regular; from their gran to their cousins 90% of family communication takes place on social media.
Like all risky activities – riding a bike with training wheels to learning to drive with dual control – the best way for kids to learn safety is in a controlled and monitored environment. I am a ‘friend’ to both on FB and, without stalking, I am able to check that their behaviour is acceptable by reading comments and I can see that they are not friending inappropriate people. “experts fear that brief, unsupervised contact with the massive social network may expose children to bullies, predators and inappropriate content.” ComScore
Reasons I feel guilty:
- I am generally a law abiding citizen and sanctioning kids putting false information in order to sign up makes my moral compass go into spasm.
- If we condone lying for this purpose where does it stop.
Actually I think that is the problem of FB not me as the UK Policy Director tells it the over 13 rule is in place for ease not for any real reason:
“It is not because we think that Facebook is unsafe but because of a US law about children’s online privacy. So we have it as a global rule.” Simon Milner
And by acknowledging that they know there is a problem they do nothing to solve it except adopt a CYA strategy. Bearing in mind that it is widely accepted that kids reach digital maturity at 11 years old we are being naive to think that we can really stop this.
I have being saying for years – ever since my son first asked for an account at 10 years old* that there should be junior settings that apply for any user signing up below 14. If this worked like sites such as Club Penguin, which obviously targets under 13s, they ask for a parent email for permissions. With this model parents could be mailed, maybe not every time they post (that would be very dull judging by the banal nature of most of their posts) but let you know when they have a new friend or wanted to add an app post a photo etc. But apparently this is too complex and expensive (says the multimillion dolla company!).
This principal works in our house because my kids and I are pretty open with each other so I can do this as a ‘friend’ and they I still know their passwords. In fact this has lead to many interesting conversations as far reaching as stalkers and moral relativity.
In other ways Facebook has taken its role as Loco parentis pretty seriously with the default nudity filters (which you don’t have on Google something open to all with no age limits) and the Panic Button which allows young people to identify potential harassment and deviant behaviour. After all, Facebook do recognise that 13 is not a miraculous watershed after which young people are fit to make good judgements in fact do we ever really reach that age.
So in conclusion, I am not a bad parent. Imperfect maybe, but I do not have my head in the sand when it comes to technology. I am a teacher and as such recognize that as many rules as we have there are queues of people waiting to break them. Our role as teachers, parents and large internet companies must be to raise awareness of the issues so that all users are able to make good judgements.
*In my defense I did tell him that it was illegal and suggested a plan that he and his dad shared a profile (Rob is less that interested in having a social media presence). We called this Rob&Jacob which would be officially dad’s site. That worked for a while, but gradually he changed the profile picture to be one without his dad in it, then changed the name, and finally any other feature that may have had his dad in. By the time Mollie was asking the same question (incidentally at the same age) I said just lie about your age but be sure when you hit 13 to change the data to be real (30 months then I can sleep soundly).