I knew it was a matter of time. My 11 year old wasn’t just asking for her own Facebook account, she’s lobbying for one. Her arguments were the standard ones: 1. “ALL of my friends have had Facebook accounts FOR YEARS.” 2. “If I don’t have a Facebook account, I will lose all of my friends.” 3. “If you don’t let me have one, I won’t be able to fully benefit from the computer like other kids.”
There is no doubt that the internet, and social media in particular has had a huge impact on the social and emotional development of children and teens.
At In Step, I see children who struggle with the negative consequences of social networking (i.e. cyberbullying, identity fraud, and scamming), but I also see children who would be completely socially isolated without the internet. Ten or fifteen years ago, these are the children that had virtually no social exposure outside of school. Now, they have the opportunity to make connections and develop social competencies online.
There is much to consider in weighing the pros and cons of allowing an 11 year old to have her own Facebook account. Ultimately, we decided against condoning it. We had many reasons, but the most important for us was that Facebook does not authorize anyone under the age of 13 to sign up. How can I explain to my 11 year old that it’s OK to lie about her age? Just because “all of her friends are doing it”?
Also, the inherent benefits to “waiting” for privileges is critical in this age of immediate gratification. Just because my daughter wants to sign up right now for Facebook doesn’t mean she needs to. She may believe that she will lose all of her friends if she doesn’t sign up right this minute, but I, as an adult and her parent, know differently.
Finally, she may feel that “all of her friends are already on Facebook”, but I know that I am not the only parent out there struggling with this same issue. We are all in the same place trying to figure out what’s safe and best for our children.