Facebook for under 13s

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).

under 13s facebook

Image by slightly everything/Flickr

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?

email

 

Comments

  1. This is such a tough one, and yet another example of the issues our parents never had to deal with!!!
    My eldest had no interest in Facebook only asking to go on it at around 14 – which I let her do – she lost interest in it pretty fast and doesn’t even look at it very much anymore.

    My youngest started nagging for it at 10. Towards the end of age 11 I caved when she proved to me all her friends were it (I checked almost the entire class was already on it). She was having problems fitting in with any particular friendship group at school and I did feel by not allowing her to participate I was alienating her even more. The rules are I must have passwords and I will do spot checks (which I do). I don’t have them as friends.

    It could have backfired, and at times I still have my doubts on whether it was the right thing to do, but so far we haven’t encountered any problems.

    In hindsight I think the school or P&C should have negotiated a meeting with parents in about Grade 3 and had us all commit to NOT allowing our kids on. If we had have stuck together as a group it would have been an easier battle to fight. (The teachers have said they are dealing with problems in class that stem from conversations on Facebook the night before – so there is obviously some issues there – we have just been lucky and my kid hasn’t been involved in them so far). But this is such new territory for everyone concerned we are all just flying blind and learning as we go!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience with this issue Janine. I don’t blame you for caving – it is a powerful driver, that desire for your child to feel “normal”. Probably more kids aged 11 are on Facebook now than when my daughter was that age (a short 3 years ago). And I think you have come up with a great idea, to get parental consensus in primary school, with the help of the school. Problem solved!!

  2. As the parent of 2 daughters, 11 and 13 (almost 14), who has struggled to find informative sites about teenagers, I absolutely love your blog! Regarding Facebook, after doing some research and speaking with friends, we decided that our eldest would wait to turn 13 before going on FB. She probably didn’t nag as much as she would have otherwise, had we not been clear from the start – that they were FB rules and why we agreed with them. I think kids will always be influenced by what others are doing (I know I am!) and personally I think that the best you can do is make informed, thoughtful decisions, that you believe are in the best interests of your child. They may not always be ‘right’ according to your child (or others) and mistakes will be made but I think you have to trust your instinct and have faith that it will have value in the long run.

    • Hi Jubby, thanks so much for the kind words! I’m glad you weren’t put under too much pressure by your almost teen. As you say, whichever decision parents make about this issue (or any issue), we should aim for it to be informed and considered. Hopefully these discussions help that process :)

  3. We went for the view that it is easier to monitor what we know about. My eldest has lived between two houses for most of her life and she was allowed to open FB accounts for her guinea pigs. These were monitored by her father but I didn’t know about them for sometime. So for us, her own account at 12 meant we were more aware of her online activity. Our rules are no randoms (she must know them well) and high protection on her account (which is checked by my IT proficient husband and her father) and we know her password.

    I am concerned when I see the low protection some of her friends have on their accounts and that they are all too free in “liking” pages that are obviously constructed to on-sell “likes” and personal information eg “We are all Beautiful – “Like” if you agree” or re-posting posts that offer prizes for personal information. There are also questionnaires that they fill out for one another and post on their pages that can be pretty awful – “Is ….gay? Vote Yes or No” or “Is…trustworthy?

    We have had to make comments on her page (much to her horror) when there were nasty comments placed on her page and we wanted the person involved to know her account was being monitored by her parents. The most recent event she dealt with herself; when someone wrote a put down about her but accidentally tagged her. She publicly called them out on it (with a tag) and received an apology. Once again, we knew about it. These are the worst experiences we have had. Generally, it’s kids supporting and saying nice things about each other. FB is a minefield but so is parenting and the majority of kids know more about the internet than their parents, trying to protect them from it (and some “experts” that come to talk to them about it).

    I guess I’m lucky because I’m surrounded by IT people but I think it’s important to read and learn and be aware.

    I think what is surprising is that many of her friends that are not allowed FB by their parents (or school) are now on Instagram or Skype (and others to come) which raises many of the same issues. I’d say a lot of parents would not be aware of this, as FB has been the focus of publicity.

    • Hey Jo – so many great points raised there. As you say, Facebook is not the only social networking site – do parents know about all of them? Do they manage all of them as well as they might manage Facebook? Along with Facebook, Instagram and Skype, kids are also on Twitter, Tumblr, Formspring… Formspring is far more dangerous than Facebook, I believe.
      The other difficulty is renegotiating the rules you set up initially – you have her password now, but at what age is she allowed to have that private? I can’t imagine too many teenagers tolerating their parents having their login details until they are 17, without setting up a secret Facebook site at, say… 14!
      I’ve never had my daughter’s password, but I do think I should have, at least for the first year or so.
      Thanks so much for all your thoughts.

  4. Seems like such a common issue. I’m not sure what i’d do when my little one is at that stage but I’d like to think that part of the answer is for parents to be social media savvy themselves and sit down and discuss the ramifications of being online (stranger danger in the online world and the online footprint that never fades). Each parent knows their kid and the answer lies there I suppose. In a nutshell I agree with some these comments and with school age children monitoring is a must, so too is reflection. Hope that helps!

    • Thanks Naomi – it is really important for parents to be social media savvy. But you know, I’m pretty technically-minded, and social media savvy, and it is still an effort to keep up with everything. I feel for those parents who don’t have a natural interest or ability in technology. You’re a teacher – I’d be interested to know if you thought Janine’s idea was feasible – for a school to get together with all class parents in year 3 or 4 to get some consensus on keeping their kids off FB till high school.

  5. I think it’s a tricky one, in theory it is a great idea. There will be issues to consider first like how will this be enforced? Will the school or parent be responsible if kids create accounts anyway? Will some parents feel apathetic and not one to take part in this? I think it’d be easier if there are educational workshops to help students understand why it’s better to wait and the consequences of being online, cyber bullying etc. That way those who are not online feel like they are doing the right thing, sort of empowered. I think it’s best to equip the kids with knowledge and do the same for parents. But enforcing is what is so difficult because they are online so often and parents have different approaches to these issues (they are not allowed on these sites at school anyway at least I hope that’s the case, they’re blocked at the school I’m at.) . For the record I am against social media at such a young age and hey Janine’s idea is always worth a shot.

  6. I agree with you Naomi it would be impossible to enforce. But I think if we had had discussions as a group of parents say at the parent information evening in Year 3 we would have been better equipped to stand together and say no. Also, if the school could have shared examples of some of the problems they were experiencing because of FB it might have given us a bit more of commitment to stand firm. However, I think it is highly likely they weren’t seeing those issues three years ago, it has certainly developed rapidly in a short space of time. We would have also run the risk of them signing up without us knowing – at least this way we do have half a chance of monitoring it (hopefully). I do like you idea of educational workshops to empower the kids – it would be great to do them with parents attending with the kids.

  7. My son was already 13 when he joined FB but had MYspace. I was very concerned about the language and attitudes I saw ( I was his friend ) from friends of his. Plus the huge number of kids who had no privacy settings.
    I know we need to aware and make the right choices for our child.

    • I found it an eye-opener too Trish – it’s a good insight into their world, because as parents we only see a small part of it.

  8. Im not there yet but I’m of the opinion of sticking to the rules. I don’t know who made them up and why they chose age 13 but it’s s good rule of thumb (in my opinion) to help kids respect rules. Like you said I. 12 months its ancient history. But as I said I’m not there yet do I don’t really know what I’ll do, pester power is often stronger than my will unfortunately.

    • Yes the rules are a good guideline. It just gets harder when you feel like you are the only one following those guidelines :) And that can apply to all sorts of things about parenting, not just Facebook.

  9. My post in January told my thoughts Rachel! http://www.musingnmayhem.com/2012/01/what-would-you-do/
    I’m a mean Mum apparently. :)

    • I just had a read Carmen and I don’t think you’re mean at all. 10 is really young. And she was going behind your back to defy you several times. I would have been “mean” too. I hope things have settled down for you since then. xx

  10. I agree with you about holding it off for as long as possible. I think even before we think about when to let our children have a FB account, it’s up to us to have our own proper investigation into FB…figuring out the policies and also accept the fact that they are forever changing.
    And then that comes back to the whole issue of monitoring.
    What a headache. God knows what I’ll be dealing with when my boys are teenagers…

    • Yes, parents do have the responsibility to find out what they can about these sites and the risks for their teenagers. But as you say, the policies and functionality changes ALL the time – so hard to keep up.

  11. My children aren’t even primary school age yet, and I shudder to think what decisions we’ll have to make regarding them and social media by the time they’re teenagers :(

    • Hopefully by then it won’t be such a new frontier and there will be more support and better options for protecting teenagers.

  12. I think your response was spot on Rachel. What I have found out and have been trying to explain to parents is that if it is not Facebook it will be something else as well, so better to teach them how to use all social networking sites safely and responsibly rather than trying to keep tabs (and passwords) for every site they are on. For example I know of a lot of parents of 10/11 yr olds who have not let their kids on Facebook however these same kids have started following me on Instagram and i am sure some of their parents havnt even heard of Instagram. This is still a social networking site and one where kids can connect with others., both people they know and people they don’t. Some are using it well, others not so much. And i also know other parents who never knew their kids had a tumblr account. There needs to be much more work done in what it means for them to safely use any site they are on, regardless of what everyone else is doing.

    • VERY important point to not think they are limiting their activity to Facebook. I’ve been checking out Instagram lately, and in a way it is more of a concern because it is photo-based, and photos are often where teens get themselves into trouble in social networking. Tumblr is similar – very image based, and very private in that parents are not on there.

  13. Here’s a video link by cybersafety expert, Susan McLean, provided by Generation Next.

  14. My 3 kids all got their own facebook accounts well before they were 13 (I think. My oldest might have been almost 13, trying to remember when exactly I signed them up!) I did it because they wanted to play fb games with each other and there was no way I was going to do what I saw other parents of younger kids doing and let them use my account to play games. I’m “friends” with them and all email notifications for their accounts end up in my inbox because I monitor their gmail addresses and I have their fb passwords. I keep waiting for my now 15 and 13 year olds to unfriend me or ask me to stop monitoring their emails (both of which I have told them they are welcome to do at any time) or even to start using fb more than once in a blue moon. It’s almost like they had their accounts so early that they got bored with them before they reached the desperate for fb age. Or perhaps they’re just not interested in online socialising and like me keeping track of their emails because if I didn’t tell them they had mail they wouldn’t notice for weeks. I think they’re changelings, they’re clearly not my offspring!

    • I think you’re lucky Mimbles. I know a lot of parents are worried about their children’s use of social networking sites, and it sounds like you don’t need to be.

      • Not yet at any rate, I’m sure I’ll get to do my fair share of worrying at some point down the track, I’m pretty sure my mum did a bit of worrying about me when I announced I was off to meet up with strangers from the internet back when that was still a fairly rare and suspect thing to do even for adults. :-)

  15. Valen Erap says:

    There’s a great new book called, Unblocked: The Blocked Side of Facebook, which shows the real side of Facebook for teenagers. This is the side of Facebook parents don’t see. Please if you have a teenager or soon to be teenager – this is a must read! As a bonus there’s a Slang and Emoticon Dictionary in the back of the book. For a short time Amazon is offering $5off Unblocked at https://www.createspace.com/3689179.
    Promo Code: UTGYQQHB

Comments

*

CommentLuv badge