Should I let my child have a Facebook account?
In this post, I examine what we did as a family when confronted with the question, “Should I let my child have a Facebook account?
“When my daughter turned thirteen, she became legal to sign up for her own Facebook account. At the time my wife and I decided she wasn’t ready. I knew I had to start the transition through the four stages of fatherhood with her and move from Commander to Coach on the issue of Facebook.
A short time after her fourteenth birthday, we decided to let her sign up and begin the process.
Training wheels / Shoulder Surfing
Initially, we set up a rule that she could only go on Facebook if my wife or I were at the computer with her. Essentially we would be shoulder surfing. This is where you look over someone’s shoulder at what they are doing on the computer.
We called this her ‘training wheels’ time. We showed her how the site worked and where she should go and where she shouldn’t. We could see what kinds of ads she was getting and make sure she didn’t follow them to someplace on the internet she shouldn’t go.
We set up a rule that she had to get our permission for each friend she added. At first, she only added me and her grandmother. Eventually, she added a couple of our close friends and her youth leaders. Over time, some of her friends her own age got accounts and we let her add them.
One of the early discoveries my daughter made, on her own, was that Facebook was kind of boring. She had heard about it and seems me on it and had this idea it was this incredible place, but once she could actually get on herself, she found it wasn’t as exciting as she had built up in her head.
She spent most of her time on Facebook playing games. Recently, a friend of her’s figured out how they could video chat over Facebook. It looks like Skype or FaceTime.
Over time, we started letting her get on Facebook without our constant presence. But we were still watching.
Log in as your child
One of our rules is that she has to give us her user names and passwords. This goes not only for Facebook but also for her email. Periodically, I log in as her and see what her wall looks like. I go through her messages and emails and see what she’s been talking about with her friends.
She is fully aware I’m doing this, and it was part of the conditions for her to get access to these services. It doesn’t take very long for me to audit her account and I’ve yet to find anything remotely objectionable.
I’ll also perform ‘surprise’ audits when she’s still logged in. If she’s clearing history at the end of her session, these surprise audits should catch that.
Watch what you post
A side effect of letting my daughter get on Facebook is she can now see what I post, what I “Like” and every comment I make. There have been several occasions where I’ve had to delete a post because I realize I’m complaining about my kids and not only can my daughter see it but also all her friends.
I talked about the 4 spaces we live in our lives in. Facebook has quickly become a Red (Public) space. In truth, it always was, but I’m more acutely aware of it now. I’ve had to be more careful what I post, comment on and Like.
At what age did you let your son or daughter get a Facebook account? What special rules and restrictions did you place on them?
image: wikimedia commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Facebook_logos#mediaviewer/File:No_facebook.png