Too young for Face­book

Does your child have a Face­book ac­count and what are the mea­sures you are tak­ing to monitor it?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PARENTING - By AISHA SUL­TAN

IWAS sit­ting in the chil­dren’s sec­tion of the li­brary with books about Sponge­Bob SquarePants and Clif­ford the Big Red Dog scat­tered around me when I was ap­proached by a lit­tle boy in­ter­ested in the screen on my lap­top.

“Are you on Face­book?” he asked. Yes, I was check­ing in on my page while my kids made their book se­lec­tions.

“I have a Face­book, too,” the lit­tle guy said.

“You look a lit­tle young for it. How old are you?” I asked.

“Seven. You wanna see my page?” he asked. I was taken aback and star­tled by the of­fer.

No, I did not want to see a seven-year-old’s Face­book pro­file, nor could I imag­ine what sort of up­dates he was post­ing: “Just had a Fruit RollUp snack af­ter soc­cer. Yum!”

Once upon a time, we taught our chil­dren not to talk to strangers. Now we al­low them to post their lives on­line?

I was ready to dis­miss this ex­change as a fluke, un­til I posted about it on my own page and learned that my sis­ter re­cently re­ceived a friend request from her seven-yearold daugh­ter’s friend. On the grade­schooler’s ac­count, she lists her “likes” as Diary Of Wimpy Kid, Drake and Josh and, of course, Justin Bieber.

Re­luc­tantly, my sis­ter ac­cepted, but now her own daugh­ter wants a pro­file.

I sup­pose a site that has lured 500 mil­lion peo­ple is bound to at­tract some chil­dren. Al­though Face­book makes an at­tempt to set an age limit (13 years old) by re­quir­ing a birth date to reg­is­ter, there is no way to ver­ify the in­for­ma­tion. It’s pretty easy to fake your way in. And, there are par­ents will­ing to cre­ate an ac­count for their child by giv­ing a false birth date.

Stephen Balkam, CEO of the non­profit Fam­ily On­line Safety In­sti­tute, de­scribes this be­hav­iour as ir­re­spon­si­ble.

Par­ents may jus­tify it by say­ing they will re­strict the pri­vacy and monitor the ac­tiv­ity. But even so, it’s a bad idea to in­duct your child into the world of Face­book at such a young age.

“Face­book was not cre­ated for seven-year-olds,” he said. “Kids that age re­ally, re­ally don’t have the abil­ity to make good judg­ments about what they are putting out there.” And, the re­al­ity of be­ing a par­ent these days is that it is nearly im­pos­si­ble to monitor your chil­dren 24/7, he added.

There are ob­vi­ous safety con­cerns.

Face­book is ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one, even kids. Par­ents need to do their part in mon­i­tor­ing these ac­tiv­i­ties. Cy­ber bul­ly­ing is a real threat, as is phys­i­cal safety. Chil­dren are more likely to share too much per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. There’s a long-term risk to fu­ture rep­u­ta­tions, in which the youth­ful post­ing of a child might af­fect a col­lege ap­pli­ca­tion or job op­por­tu­nity.

And there’s a mes­sage be­ing sent to a child whose par­ents openly dis­re­gard the terms of use set by a site. They are telling their chil­dren that on­line, rules are clearly meant to be bro­ken.

Chil­dren of­ten visit the site to play games, which give those sites ac­cess to their in­for­ma­tion.

Per­haps just as du­bi­ous a mes­sage for chil­dren at an age when they are form­ing a sense of self is that their pri­vate lives, their games, thoughts and pic­tures are of in­ter­est and should be shared with ev­ery­one else. There is an el­e­ment of so­cial net­work­ing sites that feeds nar­cis­sism. It per­pet­u­ates a no­tion that we are all celebri­ties; we are all pa­parazzi.

Some par­ents, how­ever, like Doug Ter­fehr, se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Fleish­man-Hil­lard, say they have found a safe and use­ful way to merge fam­ily and Face­book.

Ter­fehr says most of his fam­ily lives out of town, so he and his wife cre­ated an ac­count for their seven-yearold son a year ago as a way for him to keep in touch with relatives. They post pic­tures of the kids’ spe­cial events, and grand­par­ents, aunts, un­cles and cousins can com­ment.

“It’s al­most like get­ting a let­ter from grandma and grandpa all the time,” he ex­plained. It was too cum­ber­some to e-mail pho­tos with at­tach­ments and not an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for the chil­dren. He says his son is only al­lowed to log on when he or his wife is present, and his only “friends” are relatives and a few close fam­ily friends.

“It works great for us,” he said, be­cause it gives his chil­dren a way to re­late to farflung ex­tended fam­ily and de­velop a re­la­tion­ship with them. It takes a fair amount of vig­i­lance to man­age a child’s ac­count as care­fully as the Ter­fehrs. Balkam says he un­der­stands the ap­peal of us­ing so­cial me­dia sites as a way of stay­ing con­nected, and his or­gan­i­sa­tion is in­creas­ingly en­cour­ag­ing par­ents to use sites specif­i­cally geared to­ward chil­dren. He likes to­geth­erville.com, which is based on a par­ent’s Face­book ac­count and al­lows chil­dren to “friend” the chil­dren of their par­ents’ friends.

“It’s al­most like the train­ing wheels for Face­book,” he said. “It re­stricts the kind of things they can say and post, so they do not over­share or use foul lan­guage.” It’s a chance for par­ents to talk to chil­dren about re­spon­si­ble use and con­se­quences of what they post.

The core de­mo­graphic is six to 11 years old. Yes, to­day’s gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren com­mu­ni­cates dif­fer­ently with one an­other than ours. But there is some­thing to be said for when a six-to 11-year-old’s so­cial net­work­ing hap­pens on a neigh­bur­hood street or lo­cal park rather than in front of a com­puter screen.

Balkam said his daugh­ter “ab­so­lutely” had to wait un­til she was 13 years old be­fore get­ting a Face­book ac­count.

And, even then, there were strict rules: Home­work first, then chores, then Face­book. In the sum­mer, they re­stricted their daugh­ter to no more than two hours of Face­book a day.

“It can be quite ad­dic­tive,” he said. “It’s a very, very im­mer­sive en­vi­ron­ment, and time can just dis­ap­pear on you.”

Given how quickly child­hood dis­ap­pears, this may be the last way we want our chil­dren to squan­der it. – Louis Post-Dispatch / McClatchyTri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

»Face­book can be quite ad­dic­tive. It is a very, very im­mer­sive en­vi­ron­ment, and time can just dis­ap­pear on you«

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