How Young is Too Young for Facebook?
Would you let your first-grader on social networking sites meant for adults?
I was surprised to learn recently that one of my daughter’s first grade classmates is 13 years old.
What? That’s what I said. But she’s on Facebook, and, as we all know, members must be at least 13 years old to join. I discovered this first-grader on Facebook while visiting her mom’s page – I discovered she was “friends” with several of her kids.
Of course, this Facebooking first-grader isn’t 13. She’s only 7. Her mom, who’s a (real-life) friend of mine, spends a lot of time on Facebook and she set up accounts for some of her curious kids. Harmless? I don’t know. Between us, I’m creeped out by friend’s Facebook casualness. Her kids’ real birthdays and pictures are visible on the site. While the privacy settings have been enacted for some of them, the security controls haven’t been enacted for all of her children. If I printed the unsecured children’s names here right now (which I won’t), you could scroll through their walls, see what games they’re playing, and see the photos in their albums.
(Common sense message to parents who choose to set up Facebook pages for small children: Don’t use a recognizable photo of the child as her head shot, and don’t make the kid’s birthday and geographic location visible to the public-at-large.)
Unlike my friend, I won’t be setting up Facebook pages for my twin first-graders. In fact, I’m glad my girls aren’t aware enough about social networking to even ask me for their own accounts.
My son, however, just started middle school. So like other parents waiting for the ball to drop, I’ve had think about “How young is too young for Facebook?” Or, put another way, “At what age is a child old enough for Facebook?” (Or, put yet another way, “Am I old enough for Facebook?” An argument I had on Facebook with a friend about politics has me second-guessing my use of online social networking.)
According to Linda Criddle, author of Look Both Ways: Help Protect Your Family on the Internet and founder of LookBothWays, Inc., parents should respect the age guidelines of the online service their child wants to join. “Doing otherwise teaches children that it’s OK to disregard the terms and conditions of the service, which is a message kids should never be taught,” she says.
I can totally get behind that advice, and for the parent who needs reinforcements while rule-setting, let the powers-that-be at Facebook be the heavy. (Mom/Dad: “Sorry, you can’t have an account. The site requires that you be 13. We can all get in trouble if we’re caught.”)