Parenting the Connected Generation: Facebook

I have been a fan of Facebook since I first discovered it in 2007. Now, 4 years later, I’m still a fan. Of all the many digital revolutions of the last several years, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is the one I enjoy the most and use most often. And yet, Facebook is a huge danger zone for parents, and not for the reasons you may think.

I bring up Facebook because many of the other digital innovations do not have set guidelines. Netflix has no written age limit for how old you have to be to watch something in the instant queue (although you must be 18 to join, since you enter a pay-based contract with them). Xbox has parental features that allow you, as a parent, to choose what your kids may or may not do–but there are no set “rules.” Cell phones, texting? There’s no written guidelines from Verizon or Sprint or T-Mobile that says you have to be a certain age to use their services.

Facebook does. If you try to sign up for a Facebook account and you are under the age of 13, you are redirected to a page that says: “You are ineligible to register for Facebook.” Why? Because, on its terms and service page, Facebook states this: “You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.”

You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.

May seem arbitrary, but that’s the age limit that Facebook has put on account users.

And if you are the parent of a child who is under that limit, you are doing her–and yourself–no favors if you help her skirt around that age limit. You can fudge that birthdate. You can make yourself a hundred years old. You can make yourself 23. But if your child is under 13, they should not be on Facebook.

This is the rule we are enforcing in our home. This is part of my passion as a parent. But it also comes from my heart as a pastor of children. As I said in Part One, I see too many kids every week who need their parents, pastors, adult friends, to be strong when things get tough. A lot of parents don’t want to keep up the fight–they are tired of the arguing or fighting. But kids need parents who help their kids make the decisions they may not be old enough or mature enough to make.

So, from someone who is passionate about helping kids grow to understand that they can make the wise choice in every situation, that they can trust God no matter what, and that they should treat others the way they want to be treated, here’s my reasons why I agree with Facebook: if you are under 13, you shouldn’t be there. Here’s why:

1) If your underage child is on Facebook, then you–or they–have lied to get an account. Whether you helped them set it up or they set it up themselves, dishonesty is what helped get past that age limit.

I know, some people have argued, “One little thing like this isn’t going to turn my kid into a liar as they grow up.” I would venture to say back that it’s not that there was a little dishonesty involved. It’s that you, as your child’s primary influence–the one who has the greatest potential to shape your child’s view of ethics and value–have shown them that even a little lie is okay. A little dishonesty, about something as inconsequential as a social media site, isn’t a big deal.

Let me be clear to you: It’s a big deal.

Children model their parents’ behavior, and if you show them that little lies about Facebook are okay, they can start believing that little lies about other things are okay, too. Would you be okay if your child lied about doing their homework? About taking money from a friend? Would you be okay if they got a fake ID? Snuck into an R-rated film?

Probably not. So let me ask you, why would you be okay with them lying to get access to Facebook? What is the difference? A lie is a lie. Dishonesty is dishonesty. And God says this about it:

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth. (Proverbs 12:22, NLT)

Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed. (Proverbs 12:19, NLT)

The crooked heart will not prosper; the lying tongue tumbles into trouble.(Proverbs 17:20, NLT)

You get it. God is against lying, and I don’t know any parent who isn’t against it, either. But kids will do what they see. They watch, they learn, and then they go out and do it. If people they love and respect do things, kids see that and say, “Hey, if it’s okay for them to do that, it must be okay for me, too.”

It’s a small thing, to change your kid’s birthdate on a form. But the value lesson you teach your child is not. Parents–or pastors–who are dishonest, even about the small things, tell kids that it’s okay for them to be dishonest, too. So ask yourself the next time you are about to “fudge” the truth: is it the wise choice? And what do I teach my children when I do it? And is teaching this lesson to your kids about something like Facebook actually worth it?

There are more reasons to come. Starting tomorrow, some facts and studies. Studies from Consumer Reports and Barna Research have some frightening statistics about Facebook that should make the parent of any underage child think twice about allowing their child to open an account. John Adams once said that “Facts are stubborn things.” When it comes to kids under 13 and Facebook, facts aren’t only stubborn. They are sobering.

Today’s Bottom Line: Your child should not be on Facebook if they are under 13 because they had to be dishonest to get the account set up.

See you tomorrow.

One response to “Parenting the Connected Generation: Facebook

  1. Thank you for your passion for protecting children and leading them into developmentally appropriate social media activity. The age limit of 13 for social media sites is actually a federal law mandated by COPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Act. Facebook is simply following the legal mandate, as they well should. Social media enables many wonderful ways of connecting, caring and sharing faith, but you are good to remind us to be wise as parents and not rush our kids into relationships or experiences that they are not ready to negotiate.

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