Jun 03 2011

Minors on Facebook?

Published by at 12:01 AM under Interwebs,Kids,Tweens

An actual Facebook post by one of my son's tween friends.

*So first I have to say I am too cheap for Photo Shop so I had to use MS Paint to block out identifying information in this Facebook conversation as well as the profanity.  That’s why it’s sucktastic.  Sorry!  Alternatively if you’re totally impressed with my ability to use MS Paint I could totally teach you, for a nominal fee ;) *

A week or so ago I wrote about the tween girls my son goes to school with and how vicious they are with each other on Facebook.  Apparently it’s not just the girls.  This is a conversation one of my son’s male tween friends posted tonight.  Nice right?

So that prompted me to want to post about the 13 and over age limit on Facebook and the debates circling with regards to tweens on Facebook.  Recently Mark Zuckerberg commented on how he believes pre-teens belong on Facebook and how he’s going to “fight for their right” to be allowed on the site. The biggest issue with this is that it’s not his call.  For Facebook to knowingly allow anyone under 13 on to Facebook would violate “The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act” which is meant to prevent children under the age of 13 from using sites with open, unmonitored chat channels where they might fall victim to predators, and sites that collect personal information and publish it for all to see which puts them at risk of large fines and sanctions.  I’m not sure what Mr. Zuckerberg’s move here is but his deciding to fight for the rights of tweens comes on the heels of the report released by Consumer Reports that found that almost 40% of the minors on Facebook are actually under 13.

Here’s where I both confess and play Devil’s Advocate for just a second.  My son has a Facebook page.  He’s currently not allowed to access it for reasons I won’t go in to here, but he does have one and even knowing what goes on there I have yet to disable it.  Yes I knew it was illegal maybe not on the up and up when I let him create it but I had my reasons.

  • A teenage relative of mine who was actually old enough was forbidden by her mother to create a Facebook page, just created one at her friend’s house and hid it from her mother and she actually had other family members who helped her do so.  I would prefer the control over what my son does and not having to wonder if he’s sneaking around behind my back.
  • My son, is the same child who a few years ago at around age 7 broke in to my E-Bay account and spent $90 on something he could have purchased in the store for $15.  He guessed my password people.  He was supposed to be playing Wizard 101 (which by the way if you have a tech savvy kid who wants to use the computer for an RPG but you won’t allow on most RPG sites, is an awesome choice, it’s fully locked down with a lot of parental control options and is actually fun and challenging, it’s a good alternative to almost every X-Box, Wii, or Playstation game ever created that allow them to mindlessly blow things up or drive cars, or jump on mushrooms with little men.  They actually have to think about what their next move will be and strategically plot how to finish the quests.  It’s awesome, and they so DON’T pay me to say that.).  Ever since then I change my passwords every 6 months and I installed a key logging software that I use to monitor his online activity.  So my point is, if he wanted one he would open one somewhere, somehow, so again I’d rather have that control.
  • At the time his was created last Spring it was created to keep in touch with out of town relatives and his hockey team in the off season.  It would be awesome if someone created a fully secure social networking site like Facebook where kids his age could do stuff like that, but it’s an endeavor I’m so not taking on.
  • He wanted to play Farmville with his grandmothers.

When I signed him up for his account I found that Facebook actually does have some serious safeguards in place for accounts held by those under 18, because legally at 13 they can have a page but that doesn’t mean they are ready for all that’s available or open to them on Facebook and what 13-18 year old girl doesn’t need some protection from creeping perverts?  So there are things they do with “minor accounts” that they don’t do with adult accounts.  That made me feel somewhat better about our decision though I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one I struggled with long before the recent drama I’ve seen in these pre-pubescent hormone factories that he calls friends.

In the instance in the picture above it appears as though one boy’s best friend stole his “girlfriend” while he’s on vacation with his dad.  Most of you I am guessing will look at that and see a really good indication of how an 11-12 year old isn’t mature enough for a Social Networking site.  To that I would say, I both agree and disagree.  I have multiple younger relatives over the age of 13 on Facebook and the level of maturity and the types of postings you see in them really varies.  There are days I go “WHUCK?” and shake my head at kids these days and there are days they act like actual kids and not packs of rabid wolves.  What I see more glaringly is the same problem I see with the same aged girls I posted about.  Their parents are on their Friend lists and they let this go on!  In this instance the mother of the boy being talked to/about/around stepped up because that’s the kind of mother she is, and for the most part most of my son’s friend’s parents are the same.  I weed out those that aren’t, because if they have free reign to be complete buttheads then no matter how much I monitor Joey’s activity he’s going to be exposed to that.  Likewise, that boy won’t be coming over to hang out any time in the near future, although I’m slightly ashamed to admit that because he really doesn’t have the most awesome home life and if  I thought for a second I could help him by allowing him to hang out over here I would do so, but more likely with this boy I’d see the same issues the other mother is seeing and she has tried to shield him from the drama at home until quite recently when she decided he’s just not a good influence on her boys either.  It’s a sad thing when you have to make that decision about an 11 year old who’s troubled because of circumstances out of his control (but that’s another post entirely).

Recently a school resource officer in our community gave a presentation at the Junior High School regarding cyber bullying and he stated that most of the bullying he sees in the schools begins on Facebook or MySpace and spills over in to the schools themselves.

While that may be true I have to say, I remember plenty of bullying when I was that age and the only difference between then and now is that the kids wrote notes with actual pens or called a land line phone to yell at one another and threaten rather than using a cell phone to text their threats or Facebook to start an argument.  So the big question there would be, does a social networking site cause more bullying or is it just a good scapegoat for a problem that already existed in certain age groups and has for a LONG time?  Does anyone remember Nelly from “Little House on the Prairie”?  Hello, she was the CLASSIC example of what I would assume a bully was at that time.  Many classically written books are full of varying degrees of bullying or kids fighting with one another.  The only difference between then and now is that back then the kids threw rocks at each other or beat the snot out of one another and then got up, shook hands and went their separate ways, where today they pull an actual weapon, and kids back then didn’t appear to have the self esteem issues our generation and our children’s generation seem to have.

We live in a time where kids set up fights after school and multiple onlooking kids will video the fights with their cell phones and then upload them to You Tube.  I saw many a fist fight or yelling match in my school growing up, we just didn’t have the means to video it or the desire to do so, although most of us didn’t shy away from meeting out behind the school to watch the after school fight.  I see more and more the pack mentality in these kids where when I was young we just watched the drama of the day and then went on home, and the propensity for violence in today’s youth is frightening because again I say they take it to the extreme and it’s not unusual for a weapon to be brandished and utilized.

While my son’s page hangs in the balance as I lean more and more toward the reasons why it’s not a good idea for him to have that page, I still struggle with it.  Am I teaching him that it’s OK to lie to get what he wants by fudging his age and birth date?  Quite possibly and that’s an aspect I hadn’t considered until someone brought it up on another site, which is really ridiculous because I’m not actually despite what that might lead you to believe, a complete moron.  Is the problem that the kids under 13 aren’t mature enough for a social networking site?  Or is it pointing to a much bigger problem, one in which the parents need to take responsibility for what their kids are doing on the computer and how they are representing themselves in the social arena that we should be looking at?  Because obviously the one mother in the above conversation has a WAY more serious issue with both of her boys than whether or not one of them is too young to be on Facebook, don’t you agree?

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