Great Parenting (Not) in Facebook

My middle child has been hounding us to allow him to create a Facebook page. He just turned 12 and is in the 6th grade. “Everybody I know has a Facebook page” is what he uses as his main sales pitch. The Facebook terms of service say that 13 is the minimum age for an account. You have to give them a birthdate when creating the account. If you lie and give a birthdate that is not accurate, but use one that indicates that you are 13 or older, then your account is created.

So far we’ve been standing firm on the whole “you’re not 13 yet” line of thought, but it feels particularly lame in this case. Most of his classmates already have an account and have had for some time, mainly since the start of 6th grade last fall. It’s not too easy to convince a 12-y-o that he shouldn’t have a Facebook account when everyone around him (11 & 12 years old) already has one. If anything, it makes us look like the evil parents for following the rules when no other parents appear to be doing so.

Nice job of parenting out there people. We appreciate it.

I’m actually pretty conflicted about the whole thing. On the one hand, I don’t see any rhyme or reason for Facebook to have set an age limit of 13. Can’t think of anything else in this world (at least nothing significant and I’m not saying that Facebook is significant) where 13 is the magic number. Clearly it’s more an issue of maturity than it is of raw age. It’s also an issue of parental oversight more than it is of age. If he was to have a Facebook account it is with the full understanding that his parents will know his password and that nothing he does on that site will be kept private from us. That’s the deal with his cell phone as well which he has lost several times because of the inappropriate language he gets in text messages sent to him (mainly by girls). Even though he is not using inappropriate language in his texts, he knows that if his “friends” use that kind of language that he will lose his phone for a while.

However, I’m also conflicted with the whole idea of “follow only those rules that you agree with.” Since we don’t think that 13 is a magic number for Facebook, then we’ll just choose to ignore that rule. Nope – don’t like that slippery slope that leads to more and more questions about how old you need to be to do certain things (driving, drinking, etc. etc.)

Yesterday morning he was sitting at the computer with his 11-y-o friend who has a Facebook account. I asked him to start writing down the names of his friends who are not yet 13 but who have a Facebook account. After writing two names they quickly realized that the easiest way would be to look at said friend’s list of Facebook friends and pick out those who are in the 6th grade (and under). He brought me a list of about 20 names and said they got tired of writing them down but would continue if I wanted them to. I said no, this was sufficient. Funny thing, those twenty names all started with the letters A, B, and C. In fact, they hadn’t even finished the C’s yet and they had 20 names just from the friend’s account. Since it’s publicly viewable, I then looked at his list of friends which led to more names and more names, etc.

By the end of this little exercise I was under the impression that my son is the only 6th grader at Superior Middle School without a Facebook account (I’m sure that’s incorrect, but that’s the way it felt).

So, the jury is still deliberating on this one. Maybe we’ll stand firm, and maybe we’ll cave like a house of cards. Either way, I feel like we lose something important.

6 Responses

  1. Barry, Same thing going on at my house. We did wait until our oldest was 13 and he was given a Facebook account for Christmas. I know that sounds cheap but it is what he wanted most. He also needed to address a few responsibility/chore issues long-term before getting the account. I have been very impressed and proud with how he uses FB. But now my 11 year-old is hounding us daily about an account just as you described above. But we have the “your brother had to wait until he was 13” going for us.

  2. Barry, I feel your parenting pain. We JUST went through this last week with our 12-yr old daughter. After conveying to her the concerns I have regarding her time, personal information, and actions in Facebook I helped her create an account. I’m an accomplice and it doesn’t sit well with me (I usually am a rule-follower, not a rule-challenger). I also agree with you in that the determining factor is maturity of our child.

    My wife and I try deal with each situation on its own merits and in this case, I personally find a great deal of difference between Facebook access, driving laws, and of course, drinking.

    I think I will try to figure out how to communicate to her that although we bent the rules regarding Facebook access, she should not expect us to act similarly in other situations down the road.

    Thanks for articulating this specific parenting challenge. Hopefully it will help other parents.

  3. Michael, we are also using the “your sister had to wait ’til she was 13” line, but now there is a controversy about whether she really did wait, or not. Either way, it’s tough to deal with the whole “sister has one so why can’t I?” BTW, we have had to take corrective action more than once with the 13-y-o and her FB account.

    Jeff, if you figure out how to communicate clearly about which rules can be bent and which can’t, I’d love to hear it. Sounds like we are all in the exact same boat – where are the bailing buckets? I’m hoping we don’t sink!!

  4. I’m off the hook with my older two children….

    My Official Parenting Manual 2000 edition – which we received before we left the hospital (didn’t everyone?) – has no mention of Facebook or cell phones for children whatsoever. The 2004 edition describes recommended ages at which a child could or should receive their own personal cell phone (when they can personally and independently pay their bill), but again, there’s little to no mention of Facebook.

    The more recent 2009 edition – the one we received with the 15 month old says Facebook at 13 per the TOS. That’s what I’m going with😉 But the older two are bound by the recommendations set out by the parenting manuals issued during their birth year.

    Or… that’s the story they’ll get from me at least😉

    -cmd

  5. The age requirement by Facebook is due to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which limits the collecting of personal data from children under 13.

  6. To follow up on Neil’s comment, I’ll point you to Danah Boyd’s How COPPA Fails Parents, Educators, Youth.

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