The Facebook Debate

It’s a debate that goes on in our school, in so many of our homes and even when parents meet socially – What is right and ‘sensible’ as an approach when our children want to have a presence on Facebook (or any other social networking site).

One of the simplest routes adopted by many teachers and parents has been to simply suggest that the rules state 13 is the age limit, to join under that age entails being dishonest and therefore that’s all there is to it. However, I suspect to many children this is about as effective as the infamous “Because I say so” argument – the last desperate throw of the dice adopted by parents for years (but rarely found satisfactory by children).

Here’s an interesting piece that looks at this issue from a US perspective, how parents there are tackling the issue and especially how parents are dealing with the perception that every other child is being permitted:

MSNBC Article on Facebook

Some of the comments about maturity of the child being more important than rigid cut-offs make a lot of sense, but could be challenging to explain to the child convincingly. Every child, by and large, believes he/ she is as mature as any in their peer group and will not be convinced otherwise. I found the warnings about children and online relationships quite thought provoking and a perspective I hadn’t previously thought too much about.

We know there are lots of underage TSRS students on facebook and in other social networking sites. We know also that, although they have allowed it/ condoned it/ looked the other way, many TSRS parents worry about this. Some want the school to take a major role in protecting the children. Some accept it as their responsibility, but struggle to figure out what to do about it.

I would really like to hear from parents and teachers on this issue. How do we get the balance right between freedom to explore and grow vs protection and discipline building? I would also like to hear from students – what do you think? What limits and restrictions would you be open to? The article talks of parents holding the child’s password and going online to check from time to time – would that be OK with you?

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3 Responses

  1. As far as face book is concerned, Its not a question of freedom to explore or restriction. Its about following the rules and i strongly feel respect for rules should be inculcated in the children. If thirteen is the age for joining facebook, it should be followed. The kids also understand that but the peer pressure in school, is what corrupts them. The stress should be on strengthening the childs character so he/she is not swayed by peer presure and cheap thrills.

  2. I have a twelve year old son , who at some point was obsessed with opening a facebook account, this was around the fifth standard when everyone else around him was doing it.
    I think if one is in the habit of “talking ” with children, more often than not they “understand the logic of the argument. In this case, he failed to convince me and as a result himself, for the “real or authentic need” to be on face book and be friends with whom he spends most of the day in school.
    Initially when it was known to his friends that he was not allowed to be on facebook, he was unhappy about it but over a period of time the craze faded away . I am sure it will come back but by then hopefully he and his parents will be ready to handle it.

  3. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the interesting blog post. I am a firm believer that children should not be on Facebook until at least 13, with my preference actually being for even an increase in this minimum Faebook age. But lets go with 13 for the purposes of this discussion. Here are the reasons:

    * Safety – there is a lot that can happen via social networking sites that a lot of parents are not aware of. This includes being subject to and/or exposed to inappropriate and offensive propositions, bullying, and content. Parents often make the mistake of underestimating the type of content that a child is exposed to via Facebook.

    * Peer pressure, bullying, teasing, offensive remarks, etc. – in a very public forum. Yes, these challenges are part of childhood in general, but with Facebook these get amplified due to the very public visibility of comments posted.

    * It takes away from ‘childhood’ – some may disagree and claim that social networking is part of education and normal childhood in today’s world. Even though I have been in the software field for my entire career, I am absolutely against this point of view. Millions of adults use social networking without having been exposed to this as a child, so there is no need to learn how to use social networking as a child. More importantly, we all need to step back and reflect on what childhood should be – to me it involves having fun, playing with friends, playing outside, reading, engaging in hobbies, spending good time with one’s family, etc. Spending time on social networking takes away from these activities – and, in my opinion, from one’s childhood.

    * It works against the types of competencies we need our children to build for the future – this is somewhat a continuation of the previous point, but I’d like to note this separately. Those who spend a lot of time on Facebook, etc., as children/teenagers are not building the social skills and people-interaction competencies that others are building via sports, arts/hobbies, playing with friends, interaction with family, etc. These ‘softer’ competencies are what our children will need in the future and spending time on Facebook works against this.

    Since I’m posting anyway, I’d like to also share some thoughts/tips on cyber-safety for parents. I feel a lot of parents underestimate this topic, and I’d encourage parents to consider these suggestions:

    * Every parent absolutely needs filtering software on each and every computer at home. If a child mistypes one letter in a website address, he or she could end up at a website with offensive content – filtering software protects against this.

    * There should be no webcams available to children. Children often want to engage in ‘video chat’ with their friends. This should not be allowed.

    * Pictures of your child should not be posted on social networking sites in a way that they can be accessed by the general public. If they are posted such that only your friends/contacts can access, then that’s fine. However, they should not be posted for the general public to be able to view.

    * I believe in being able to view my children’s e-mail, etc., for as long as I can manage to do so. There are different ways to do this. Some e-mail sites allow you to enter an alternate e-mail address which either gets copied on e-mails or has access to the e-mails. When you set up your child’s e-mail account, you can also set this up. At the extreme end (which I am not currently doing), there are programs that capture all keystrokes such that you can always see what your child is typing. Of course you need to respect their privacy and realize they are young and exploring the world and might make silly comments in e-mails. This type of behavior is fine and doesn’t require any action from my side. However, from my monitoring, I have come across at least three cases of inappropriate e-mails being sent to my children, and I would not have known about these e-mails had I not been monitoring.

    * The computer should be in an open area – e.g., in the family room area – where parents often are sittting or at least pass by regularly.

    * Make sure children are aware of what type of information they should not share on-line (e.g., telephone numbers, home address, etc.).

    * Set rules on computer time to limit computer time daily. Also, if possible, set automatic time controls. Windows 7 has this functionality, and I use it to give certain time ‘windows’ for access. If you are not on Windows 7, then there are software programs that can enable you to set time limits on internet access.

    * Most importantly – communicate early, openly, and regularly, with children about these types of topics. Having honest and open communication on these types of topics can make all the difference.

    One final note to parents: please beware of Google Buzz – your child is most likely on this and it has all of the same issues as Facebook listed above. We all know about Facebook, and kids are aware that they shouldn’t be using Facebook (even if some do). Google, on the other hand, has taken a ‘Trojan Horse’ strategy and anyone using gmail has immediate access to Buzz – there is no age check and there is no need to sign up separately. If your child is using gmail, then there is an extremely high chance that he or she is also using Buzz. I’ve viewed Buzz postings and the same concerns about possible offensive content are there also in Buzz. Once I found out about Buzz, I removed access to Buzz for my children.

    Sorry for the long post, but I do feel this is a serious topic that is sometimes overlooked, so I wanted to share these thoughts. If any parents have any questions on anything related to the above suggestions, they can contact me directly at rohitgupta999@yahoo.com.

    Best regards,
    Rohit

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