What age should you let your child have a Facebook page? My daughter is 10 years old and wants one.
From: srqflfan, Bourne
Does it help to know that Facebook has a minimum age requirement of 13?
Facebook does not want preteens. Here's what its policy statement, last revised 12/22/2010, says about age:
"If you are under age 13, please do not attempt to register for Facebook or provide any personal information about yourself to us. If we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13, we will delete that information as quickly as possible."
If Facebook doesn't want your 10-year-old, surely you don't want your 10-year-old there. Tell her, "You're too young. Facebook has a rule that you have to be 13. We can talk about this again in a few years." At the very least, that will buy you some time.
But why doesn't Facebook want 10-, 11- or 12-year-olds? What's so magical about 13 (aside from being the Bar/Bat Mitzvah year!)?
Mostly, it's about brain development. Even then, 13 isn't magical. Facebook has arbitrarily chosen that age but most experts would agree agree that the older a child is when they start with Facebook, the safer they are from predators, cyberbullies, and on-line addiction in the same way that the older a teen is when he/she takes the first drink of alcohol, the safer they will be from susceptibility to addiction.
In "Ask the Mediatrician," Dr. Michael Rich of Children's Hospital Boston answers questions about media and children's health. I'm a big fan of his, so rather than re-invent the wheel, let me quote him about this:
"Scientific knowledge about brain development implies that Facebook's minimum user age of 13 is, if anything, a little low. A tween’s brain simply hasn’t developed enough yet to really understand and carry out the tenets of cybersafety because the pre-frontal cortex—the area in the brain crucial for impulse control, future thinking, and what Freud called “superego” or conscience—doesn’t fully develop until a person’s mid- to late 20s.
"Therefore, although many parents believe that their own children are smarter than the average bear and can handle cybersafety as early as middle school, neurodevelopment occurs in predictable patterns and time frames, and no 13 year old is there yet. Developing the skills necessary to be a responsible cybercitizen is not a matter of intelligence or experience—it’s a concrete fact of nature."
Whenever the time comes that your child is about to start Facebooking, you need to have conversations. Kids think it's their right to be on Facebook; let them know it is a privilege that they earn by demonstrating responsibility, primarily, that they can get their homework done in a timely fashion on their own, and that they can complete their chores and family responsibilities without constant nagging. And as with any computer use for preteens, set a limit on daily use, a number that you and your child arrive at together based on the realities of his or her life.
As with so many issues these days where parenting bumps up against the culture, there are three things to keep in mind. The first is that the best preventative medicine is being pro-active; talking about the issues, in this case media literacy, before the issue is a problem, goes a long way to children becoming part of the solution. The second is that sometimes, we really do have to just say no. I don't mean that you just shut down without discussion. What I mean is that, after airing pros and cons together, sometimes you just have to say, "I listened to your perspective, but I am the parent and it's my job to keep you safe, so the answer is no, but we can consider this again in x months." Or: "We can try it for a week/month and see how it goes." Set the parameters of what that means ahead of time in regard to grades, social life, sleep time, etc. In the meantime, do your homework and learn all you can about cyber safety and social networking.
By the way, I once interviewed Hemanshu Nigam, who time was then the chief security officer for MySpace, another social network site popular among school-age kids. At the time, the company had a minimum age requirement of 14 and he had an 11-year-old. Here's what he said he told his son: "'Right now, MySpace is not right for you.' I trust that if his friends have it, he’ll tell me. I’ll talk to their parents myself.’’
I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.