A friend wrote to me during the week – ironically, via Facebook – to get some advice about her tween daughter and the social networking site. She said:
Hi Rach, I’m wondering if you could get some feedback for me or any advice as to what age is deemed suitable for Facebook.
We allowed our son after he turned 12, and thankfully have had no issues over the past two years. He is actually “over” it and thinking of deleting his account – or so he says, lol.
My issue is our 11-year-old daughter who has been begging me for the past few months. I have told her that she will have to wait till she is 12 (next January) like her brother and adhere to the same rules ie be my friend, and I must know passwords etc which she is agreeing on (of course).
Sometimes I feel like I’m the “baddie” as she says she is missing out. It seems most of her friends now have it and they are interacting via social media. I just know how girls can be and I guess I’m trying to protect her for as long as I can. But at the same time I don’t want her to feel outcast from her group of friends. Any advice is so greatly appreciated. Thanks, Trish.
This was my reply:
Hi Trish, they are VERY persistent aren’t they!? In my (humble) opinion, I say hold off. For a start, the Facebook rules are for 13 years and over anyway, so you can say to your daughter you are already breaking the rules for her by allowing her to go on a year early, and you are doing that to be fair because you let your son go on at 12.
I think you are absolutely right to want to protect her as long as you can. Let’s face it, she’s really not missing out on anything much and another six months is not going to kill her. In fact, it’s a good message that you set the rules and you can’t be nagged into submission. Because believe me, they will work you a lot over the next few years and you have to be very strong to stick to your guns. I let my daughter on at 12 too, when she started high school (so she was probably at the tail-end of 11). And I seem to remember I endured a year of nagging before too. A good friend of mine stuck to the Facebook rules and didn’t let her girl go on till 13 – so year 8, and she was seriously the very last of her friends to get it, by a long shot. And a year on, of course, those 12 months are ancient history.
I know it’s hard when they feel like you are making them an outcast, but if I had a dollar for every time I heard “but everyone else is doing it mum”, and then learning later that it is only a handful of kids who are allowed to, I’d be very rich. They are very good at manipulating (bless them) and you have to learn to be tough.
At her age, she is unlikely to be the only one without it, and she is unlikely to lose social standing because she doesn’t have it.
One final point – the painful thing I’ve found about social media is monitoring all the time they spend on it, and getting them off it to do homework etc. The minute you allow her on it is when that painfulness will start for you too – the nagging to get Facebook will be replaced by nagging to go on it. So you’re buying yourself some time too!
If you do end up letting her on earlier, it’s great that you’ve already set up those rules around passwords etc, especially in the early days (they will probably renegotiate that at some point).
Now, I know there will be some people who won’t agree with me allowing my daughter on a year early. And I know there are some parents who say they will never let their kids have Facebook. The fact is, 38 percent of all children on Facebook are under 13. So no, not all your kid’s friends have Facebook, but it seems a lot of them probably do. And it is unrealistic to think that we are not affected when our children are the only ones swimming against the tide. Even if we have strong feelings about an issue, it can be useful to consider “what everybody else is doing” when examining all angles of a topic. So you balance that with when you think your child is ready, when you are ready as a parent, with the age you feel in your gut is appropriate, and so on. That process will probably apply to a lot of things in my life over the coming years!
It may all be a moot point if Facebook follows through with plans to open its site to children, with some stricter privacy rules in place.
Some commentators feels this would make it safer for children, as expressed in this Huffington Post piece by Technology Writer Larry Magid:
“We could all ignore the reality that children 12 and under want to be on Facebook too, but the smarter and safer approach would be to acknowledge it and embrace it by creating a service optimized for them.”
However Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer believes the idea is just a money grab to impress shareholders:
“What Facebook is proposing is similar to the strategies used by Big Tobacco in appealing to young people – try to hook kids early, build your brand, and you have a customer for life. What’s next? Facebook for toddlers?”
I’d love to know what you think. If you have younger children, are they asking yet for Facebook? Would you allow them on before 13? If you have teenagers, what age did you allow them to have Facebook?