Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Do You Think Kids Should Be On Facebook?

I find this all very fascinating. And before I get to the link with a survey, I'll explain why I find it fascinating. A friend of mine with a 13 year old son recently had a problem with FB. Like all his friends, the 13 year old wanted to be on FB because everyone else is doing it. He's a good kid and never had any serious problems in school. A and B student; gets along well with everyone.

So my friend let his son set up an account and my friend started to monitor the 13 year old's posts. Sounds fine so far, doesn't it? All happiness and love in the Internet age. The 13 year old will post thoughtful, meaningful sayings and quotes and photos about love and harmony. And he'll live HEA.

But like most kids this age, the 13 year old knows how to navigate the web and how to set up his own FB accounts. And like all teenagers ever born to mankind, they tend to lie every now and then. I've never met one that didn't and you can't hold it against them. It's part of growing up. So while my friend thought he was monitoring the real account, his 13 year old was having a good old time with the fake account.

The 13 year wound up getting into trouble over something very small...something he'd posted on FB. He was arguing with another kid about something stupid...like all kids do...and he told the other kid he would kick his ass if he didn't shut up. The father of the other kid, the politically correct type, saw this and complained to the school...even though it happened off campus. My friend's kid wound up with a three-day out of school suspension, which will remain on his record forever, because of a zero tolerance policy most schools have these days (they really don't screw around anymore).

I've heard other stories that are more serious than this with kids on FB. And, my friend's kid and the kid he was arguing with on FB are now best friends again. Kids do things like that, which is why they are called kids. They argue and they make up and it's all forgotten the next day. But the suspension on his record won't be. When he applies to college, it will be taken into consideration.

If it hadn't been for FB, I'm not sure my friend's son would have had any trouble. How many times do kids argue outside of school and no one thinks twice about it? They usually wind up being friends again. But once it's in writing on social media like FB, it's there forever and can be misinterpreted and turned around in many different ways.

I'm also wary about letting kids under 13 on FB because I know so much about social media, especially FB. It's not a simple place to be. This morning when a newscaster in Philadelphia spoke about kids on FB she actually said something like this, "I don't see anything wrong with kids under 13 on FB as long as the parents monitor it. I have friends who set up fake FB accounts so they can monitor their baby sitters' FB accounts." Yes, she said this on TV, without even thinking twice about saying it. She saw nothing wrong with setting up fake FB accounts to spy on someone else. This becomes a more complicated issue. It becomes a matter of ethics, not to mention safety. Fake identities on social media are probably the biggest drawback of social media these days. And to promote them, and laugh at them on TV, makes me think twice about whether or not kids under 13 should be exposed to it.

I also have other friends with kids in their teens. They do not allow their kids to be on FB until they are over eighteen. They are more focused on sending their kids to good schools, working toward getting them into good colleges, and keeping them away from things like FB. When I say they spend a good deal of their lives monitoring what their kids are doing in every respect, I'm not exaggerating. And these kids aren't even on social media.

If I had kids, I'm not sure how I would react. I can't say that I would embrace them being on FB under the age of eighteen. But I can say for certain they wouldn't be on FB under the age of 13. That wouldn't happen. The Internet is too creepy, it's too furtive, and there are no signs of this improving any time soon. I've seen too much on FB and other social media to think otherwise. As long as the anonymity is perpetuated, the problems will be there. What someone will do with his or her real name and identity seems to be very different than what they will do with a fake name and identity. And I don't like that. I would feel that it is my responsibility to protect my kids under 13 from that kind of environment. I kind of look at FB the same way I look at defensive driving. Everyone else on the road is a potential hazard and I take nothing for granted.

Here's an article about the subject, with an interesting survey.


! said...

As a therapist I can say that currently the #1 source of bullying is Facebook. Physical, in-your-face, bullying is NOT the problem that the media would like to purport it is. Cyberbullying via Facebook and texting on phones is out of control among teenagers. Our offices work with the County Superintendent of Schools on programs to bring this to the attention of administrators, teachers, students, and parents. Quite frankly either Facebook needs to make itself 18+ only (and delete all sub 18 accounts) have a class action lawsuit brought against it for allowing cyberbullying to run rampant on its accounts. Harsh stance yes, but I deal with the aftermath.
Matthew Darringer

ryan field said...

I agree. And from what I hear from friends who don't allow their kids on FB, they don't have as many problems.

Barb said...

I never thought about this issue before since there was no such thing as Facebook when my son was under 13 (he's 20 now). I can definitely see where bullying would be a problem. Then bring in the problem with fake accounts, and it seems like it would be next to impossible to stop. I tend to be of the philosophy of not having kids grow up too fast. I have to agree with your friends, and if I did have a child in this age, I would probably forbid Facebook. My parents forbid a lot of stuff when I was a kid, and I grew up without them just fine. At least, I think so! Kids are cruel enough,so why subject a child to another way of having bad relationships?

Shelagh said...

To some extent, I think it depends on the child and their circle of friends. I have 2 kids and they have had very different experiences with FB. My daughter was almost 15 when she started on FB. She was being bullied in school and this extended into FB. It led to what turned out to be a useful conversation, about who she became friends with on FB and why. In the end, she felt like she had more control - she couldn't do very much about the verbal abuse she encountered in school, but she could ditch those people on FB (and did). Having said that, I think the way FB deals with abuse is piss poor. One girl left some really obscene personal comments on a photo Meg had posted and I reported them, and I know several members of my family did, too, but FB never did anything about it all - and this was after they'd brought in their 'anti-bullying' policy; it turned out to be as ineffective as the school's.

My son, who's just 12, also has an FB account. I was much more unhappy about this as he'd set it up on a PC at the local library and I only found out about it when he was suggested as friend for me! On the other hand, he hasn't encountered any of the problems that Meg did, either at school or on FB and he only looks at it once in a blue moon.

At the start we had a major row about it, mainly because he'd been so sneaky about setting it up. The main reason he wanted it (the curse of all parents!) is 'all my friends are on it'. For now, he's allowed to keep it, on the condition that he keeps me on his friends list so I can see what he's doing on there. I still feel unhappy about it, but for now, it's not doing any harm.

I think the problem with implementing any age limit on FB, or similar sites, is that there is no way to check. Ewan and all his friends started using FB at around the same time and just changed the year of their DOB; there is no way for FB to verify this. I could contact FB and get his account closed and he can just get a hotmail address and open another one from any PC that's not at home. FB can't prevent that and neither can I. At the end of the day, letting him keep the account and being able to monitor it is the lesser of 2 evils.

ryan field said...

@Barb...I was kind of surprised it would become an issue. I guess a lot of kids are asking to do it.

@Shelagh...Facebook's policies in general leave a great deal to be desired. One thing I thought about while writing the post was that letting kids on FB, and really teaching them about social media, might be a good way to teach them ethics and how to behave in social situations...if all parents did this. In other words, I think the Internet is changing, and will continue to change. I think the old days of anonymity are going to come to an end very soon as more and more people in the mainstream start taking it seriously and using it more often. And there are going to have to be rules to follow, like in all civilized societies. We might even need an Internet license...like a driver's license, where we can't fake it anymore. My huge concern with kids are the creeps out there. I could tell horror stories about things I've experienced on FB and I'm not a kid.

Barb said...

I like your idea of using Facebook and a kid's experiences with it to teach them ethics, relationships, etc. It certainly seems that many parents are not teaching their children morals and values. But I suppose those same parents wouldn't teach it no matter what. I know I shouldn't be, but I'm still surprised by how kids treat other kids; modeling behavior they have seen at home, I guess. I was in elementary school in the 70's and graduated high school in 1980. We didn't have quite so many different ways to hurt each other. Maybe it's just that I was afraid of my parents, so I never did much that I might get caught at! I feel really bad for kids these days!

ryan field said...

I think a lot of parents are afraid to discipline their kids nowadays. They hear so much about abuse they aren't such what the difference is anymore.