Parenting the Connected Generation: Facebook, Part Two

In this ongoing series, I will discuss parenting elementary age kids through the online world.  This includes everything from email to Xbox Live to video games and movies.  Part Two discussed Facebook and its age 13 requirement that any child or parent has to lie about to get an account set up.  Today, a bit more about the dangers of having a preteen on Facebook.

From a biblical standpoint, the fact that a child under the age of 13 has to lie (either with or without parent approval) to get a Facebook account is bad enough.  Lying, no matter what it is about, is never the right path for anyone to take to achieve something.  And you may think, it’s just a little thing.  Maybe you think, “It’s just my son and his friend.  It’s no big deal.”

Sadly, this is not a thing limited to just “your son and his friend.” According to Consumer Reports, 7.5 million kids under the age of 13 are registered Facebook users.  Of that staggering number, 5 million were under the age of 10.

“Children under 13 who post personal information on Facebook that can be publicly viewed defeat protections afforded by the Federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA). That act prohibits sites from knowingly disclosing children’s personally identifiable information. “We are very concerned about kids eliding around COPPA’s restrictions,” Federal Trade Commission chair Jon Leibowitz told Consumer Reports.

Some of the very laws and safeguards enacted to keep kids safe on the internet are defeated by this lie.  And with the constantly changing privacy rules on Facebook that even most adults are unaware of, how is a preteen supposed to remember to update privacy settings so only their friends can view or share information?

(If you are an adult user of Facebook, ask yourself–when was the last time you checked the information you share?  And did you realize that Facebook’s default settings may share far more than you are comfortable with?)

In addition, the constant sharing of information, games, pages, and more, what has the potential of being just a place to chat with friends becomes a place where underage children can find themselves talking with, sharing information with, and friending complete strangers.  You most likely wouldn’t let your child become friends with a 47 year old man who loves to play videogames in real life–and yet, this very easily can happen on Facebook due to fan pages and the like.

Another sobering statistic?  Only 18 percent of parents are friends with their kids on Facebook.  And only 10 percent of parents actually have frank talks with their children about using the internet appropriately.

You may think your 11 year old is going to only think about 11 year old things.  But in the world of the internet, the dangers of exposing your kids to mature content is very real.  And your 11 year old son can quickly discover pornography–even through Facebook.  Your daughter can easily be sent inappropriate pictures through her account.  Just ask the parents of the 17 year old who was one of Rep. Weiner’s online acquaintances.

And what about cyber-bullying?  More than 1,000,000 underage children have been harassed or bullied on Facebook, according to the report.  And in a case that made national headlines, two Issaquah preteens (11 & 12 years old) were charged with hijacking another student’s account and posting lewd updates, offering sex to other kids at school.

“That’s not my kid,” you may say.  “My child won’t do that.” That’s what every parent of every kid who has ever made an unwise choice has ever said.  You may be the parent who helped set up the account and promised yourself that you would always monitor it.  So–do you?  Do you know everything on your child’s Facebook account?  Do you know the kinds of decisions she is making?  What pages she is “liking” and who she is friending?

Today’s Bottom Line: The danger is real, and even good kids can make poor decisions online.  It would better to help your kids make wise choices by keeping them off Facebook until they are at least 13.

Tomorrow? The importance of your reputation.  All it takes is one bad status update.  Or one bad Tweet.  Just ask Rep. Weiner.

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