Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

How Young is Too Young for Facebook?

By Abby Margolis Newman

 

How young is too young for Facebook? I’ve been thinking about this question because my youngest son, Henry (age 12) asked about getting a Facebook page. Henry has two older brothers (ages 16 and 17) who are both on Facebook, but I am not inclined to let Henry participate until high school.

 

So I read with great interest a piece in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine by Bill Keller, which started out: “Last week my wife and I told our 13-year-old daughter she could join Facebook. Within a few hours she had accumulated 171 friends, and I felt a little as if I had passed my child a pipe of crystal meth.”

 

Exactly. Once your child joins Facebook, there is no turning back. When Jonah (17) and Aaron (16) joined Facebook a couple of years ago, I insisted that they “friend” me so that I could spy on them as needed. This meant, of course, that I had to join Facebook too—something I had less than zero desire to do.

 

Don’t tell my kids, but I hardly ever even look at their Facebook pages: a) I trust them; and b) anytime I have checked on them, the contents have been completely innocent and innocuous. Sure, there’s the occasional mild gripe about a teacher or the scattered use of the “f” word, but nothing that I can really object to.

 

But when we had a discussion about this issue the other night during dinner, I was surprised that the older boys advised Henry against getting a Facebook page anytime in the near future.

 

Aaron said, “It’s not good for someone your age. First of all, it’s very distracting and takes up a lot of time. And also, you should learn to have human interactions before you have online interactions.” Jonah agreed that kids Henry’s age haven’t formed good enough relationships in the real world to extend them to the digital one. Shockingly mature and sensible. But I’m not sure Henry was convinced.

 

Keller makes the point in his article that one of the (unintended, but inarguable) casualties of the relentless forward-march of technology is that kids have lost their capacities for concentration and depth of thought. “Twitter and YouTube are nibbling away at our attention spans,” he writes. “And what little memory we had. . . we have relinquished to Google. Why remember what you can look up in seconds?”

 

Add this to the list of parental worries (which, in my case, is always irrationally long anyway). Does our recent tendency—to boil everything down to 140 characters, to present self-censored and sanitized versions of ourselves on Facebook, to be constantly multitasking with different technologies beeping for our attention—represent progress or its opposite? Are our kids growing up as the Instant Gratification Generation, lacking the capacity for genuine relationships with other flawed human beings?

 

Keller puts it this way: “My inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human: our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected to something deeper than snark or political affinity.”

 

13yearsold
08.25.11

Hey, I'm actually a teen. I think that parents need the opinion of kids and teens to be good parents.

I understand what you and your older kids are saying about "virtual relationships" but remember, FB's original purpose is not to make friends its to keep up with people you ACTUALLY know. Its against the rules to friend some one you dont know. let him have one when he is 13, but only alow him to friend people that he knows. FB is to talk to your real friends, when they move, are on vacation or just when some one else is using the phone, so i dont think it actually is meant to takes away from all of those human interractions, but the way people use it does.
I'm 13 and just got an FB and i almost ONLY use it to play games like City Ville

hope this helps!

mamau
06.24.11

I didn't let my youngest son have one until he was 14,following the FB rules. We laid down strict rules ie: no phone numbers on it, no hometown or school info, no accepting friend requests from random people you don't know, and absolutely no posting about being home by yourself. We actually let our youngest daughter have one at 12.BUT she is so much more responsible than he is. And I consider these things the most important rules I get all of my kids posts to mine and my husbands to our cellphones,simply because I don't get on alot. And I am friends with most of their friends on FB. Almost all of the people at our church and our family members have one, so it is an integral part of communication and planning. I also get a good portion of all of my kids friends posts to my phone. You can comment on them as well as your friends and family members, and I have found it really helps in building relationships with their friends and making them comfortable with us and our values, and also makes them more inclined to come over and hang out. You can also get a good idea of their character.

mbpol
05.31.11

I completely agree. For better or for worse, Facebook is a huge step in creating an online identity. Silly decisions at early ages can have lasting impacts.

There are also safety concerns. My cousin's daughter who is only ten, has had a Facebook account for at least two years. At a recent family gathering, she was introduced to another adult cousin. She says, "Oh, you are a friend on Facebook. I always wondered who you were." I could not believe that she was accepting friend requests without knowing who the person was.

JennyOndioline
05.31.11

My son is almost 10 and so far has shown no interest in Facebook. He's on a few online educational and gaming sites designed for kids his age, where one can make "friends." So far he hasn't shown much interest in the social aspect of those sites. Our computers are in open, well-traveled areas of the house (not bedrooms) so we can always see what he's doing and who he's chatting with -- if he were inclined to chat with anyone, which he isn't so far. I wouldn't let him get a Facebook page right now and I don't know if I'd let him get one at 13 or not...my current thinking is no. I'm a big fan of FB for myself, but in my experience the content on people's pages is too "adult" for tweens and young teens, even if they have a limited friends list. I have one acquaintance who built a FB page for her 8 YO daughter and posted pictures of the kid on her account -- pictures where the girl is wearing a bikini and other midriff-baring clothing. I can only wonder what this woman is thinking and where her common sense has gotten to. Because certainly it has left her..... I'm a pretty liberal person in terms of my politics, but in terms of protecting my kids I'm pretty conservative. It just seems like common sense to me.

Bloodfury
05.31.11

FB is an complete and utter time waster and open door to losing your privacy and identity theft. So, to answer the question: you are never too old to avoid Facebook.

pittardm
05.31.11

I have a Facebook account and hardly ever go there. Every once in a while I check in and see what's going on. But I am sure my kids would be all over it all the time. They are only 8, and it will be a while before they are really interested in it, but I think I will be inclined to wait until later in middle school before they are able to sign up. I think Facebook guidelines suggest no younger than 13, is that right?

mrsncook
05.31.11

FB TOS states 14 and older, so we didn't even consider giving our girls an account until then. They understood the rules and didn't ask. When my oldest was 14, we discussed the issue and decided against it. Partly because FB doesn't monitor itself appropriately for things like porn (for some reason they allow naked breasts but ban breastfeeding pics where everything is covered). Nope. No FB in my house for my children, and that's not likely to change anytime soon.