Recently my 12 year old started talking about getting a Facebook page. He had not previously expressed desire to have one. BUT, he is now in middle school and many of his friends from church and school have one. My first response was that Facebook’s policy is that you must be 13. This appeased him for a time. A few days ago he told me that he couldn’t wait till next year so that he could get a Facebook page. This got me thinking, even when he turns 13 should he have one. Ultimately this is a personal question and the answer depends on the maturity level of your preteen, but here are some thoughts.
Facebook policy requires a person to be 13. This is the reason that my son does not currently have one. Maybe you think that your preteen is ready. But, I have told my son no because this is the policy. What lesson are we teaching them if the rules say 13, but we let them have one early “because WE think they can handle it”. What other things will our kids decide to do even though they are not old enough, “because THEY think they can handle it”? Might they take your car without your permission or knowledge? Might they sneak out of the house? Might they see an R rated movie that you told them not to? Might they drink alcohol? I know that some will disagree, but I believe if we allow them to have a Facebook before the age of 13, then we are telling them that such rules are ok to break, sometimes.
What will they see? I know that even on my Facebook I see pictures that simply shouldn’t be shared publicly. Are you ready for your 13 year old to have access to all these photos? I know what I was thinking of when I was a teenage boy and I know that most are thinking the same thing even today. Girls have little problem posting pictures of themselves in all sorts of cloths and poses. Some of these picture border on pornographic. And this is what other teenagers are posting.
Will they be safe? I have heard many stories of kids being bullied via Facebook. Personally I don’t get the whole cyberbullying thing, but for kids these days it is very real. Recently in my area there was even a young girl that committed suicide after being a victim of cyberbullying. You have to ask yourself if your kid is ready to deal with this kind of thing.
I know that I can not protect my kids from everything. I also believe that we don’t need to try to protect them from everything. Difficulties in life cause/allow us to grow. But, what I can’t protect them from I want to prepare them for. So, when the time comes that my son gets his Facebook page here are some things that will happen first.
- Facebook Contract: Much like the cell phone contract that I wrote about earlier in the week, when my son gets his Facebook I will write a contract that he and I will sign.
- Password: One non-negotiable is that his mother and I will have his password. No password, no Facebook.
- Monitoring: I know that checking his Facebook activity every day is not only unreasonable, it’s probably not necessary. But, regularly checking to see what type of stuff he and his friends are posting is a must.
- Friends approval: Many kids may have a problem with this one, but I WILL reserve the right to approve or disapprove any of his Facebook friends. Here are some basic guidelines for Facebook Friends:
- Only friend people you actually know. I don’t even accept friend requests unless it is someone that I actually know. For me it may be someone I work with, or used to; someone I went to school with; someone from church; or other places, but it is always someone I actually have a real connection with outside of Facebook.
- ALL adults must be specifically approved by me or my wife before they can be his Facebook friend.
- Any “friend” that mistreats you online WILL be deleted.
These are just some basic thoughts. The point is that Facebook can be a great way for our kids to connect with and stay connected with their friends, but it can also be dangerous. It would be an extremely rare 13 year old that would naturally think of the kinds of cautions that I mentioned above. It would be an ever rarer one that would make the right choice in these situations. With a little guidance Facebook can be a great thing for our kids, but they can not do it on there own.
What sorts of things do you do to keep your kids safe on Facebook? If you were writing a Facebook contract, what things would you include?