Several years ago, I did some research on social networking sites, especially Facebook, and particularly as it relates to kids in preparation for a seminar I presented for the Mennonite Conference. I have been aware of many students at our school using Facebook and have had parents and teachers ask me what I thought of their child using it. This page reflects my personal views from my research and knowledge of our student population and from reading what many of our students are posting on their Facebook pages. Please check out my page called "Internet Safety for Parents" for great resources to read on the topic.

QUESTION: Should my child get a Facebook account? He/she says everyone at school has one. (recent question from a parent of a middle school student at KR)


First, I think this article by Kim Komando would be helpful ("How Young Is Too Young for Facebook?"):
http://komando.com/kids/tip. aspx?id=8006&page=1

From what I have been reading and from the somewhat limited experience I've had with Facebook (I just don't have time for it, but I do have an account and I have several students as "friends", so I have spent time seeing what they do with it online, so I can keep up with how kids use technology.), here are my thoughts:

  • You are supposed to be 13 to sign up for Facebook, but there are many students (at our school, too), who have an account and are in 6th grade, and even a few in 4th/5th grades. This means that students under the age of 13 must enter a different date of birth to be able to set up an account. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) http://www.coppa.org/ requires Web site operators to obtain verifiable parental permission to collect personal information from children younger than 13. You can view the actual act: http://www.coppa.org/coppa.htm, however there is a better explanation of it at this site: http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech021.shtml

  • Young kids don't understand the "permanence" of what you post online - that once you post a photo or comment, you can't get it back, and others can send it out to people you don't know.

  • Young kids often don't realize that what they post can be viewed by anyone on their friends list. And kids usually try to collect as many "friends" as they can. (Kids who have "friended" me don't realize that I am seeing the comments, pictures, videos they are posting. - Not that I have time to look at all of their stuff - but I can. - so who else have they accepted as a "friend" and that person can see everything, too?)

  • Kids think they are setting everything up as "private", but often, they miss things when setting up their privacy settings and some of what they post can be viewed by "friends of their friends", which are people they don't know. (See my other wiki page for guidelines on choosing privacy settings in Facebook.)

  • Bullying is so commonplace on Facebook, because it's so easy to say something online that you wouldn't say to a person's face. Kids sometimes kids don't realize they're bullying; they may just be saying something that excludes others or they may just be agreeing with something someone else said online. There are not consequences or accountability online, so they feel they can do / say anything.

  • Kids think posting things online is a way to get noticed and get attention or that it's a way to be important. It gives them a "platform" to almost be a bit "famous". I am surprised by the photos/videos/comments I have seen on even some of our students' Facebook sites. It's sad that some girls feel the need to post poses that are a bit "provocative" online at that age.

  • It can be so addicting! - Even for adults. Kids can spend hours on their Facebooks either all at once or checking in from time to time. I was surprised on recent snow days to see how many of our students were logging on all day long to write updates of what they were doing or how bored they were.

  • It gives you a false sense of friendship and the relationships are superficial experiences, which often make a person be even more isolated. http://www.drlaurablog.com/ category/facebook/. Kids need to get out and actually be with their friends.

  • On the positive side: As stated in this site http://psychcentral.com/news/ 2010/01/27/facebook-myspace- can-empower-teens/11003.html I have found that with our KR students, Facebook is for the most part an "extension of their positive friendships". They are using it to chat some more with their friends from school. It's just a way of connecting to their peers. And with our KR kids living so far apart from each other, this gives them a way to stay connected.

  • Often, I have seen students sharing concerns to pray about or encouraging each other. On Facebook, you can take a stand on an issue ("become a fan of..") and then others can say that they agree. I have seen students take leadership and share their faith by what they say on Facebook.

  • I have seen comments from adults about what students are saying on some students' pages, so apparently, there are parents or aunts/uncles who are reading and getting involved to kind of guide the kids in what they say and provide some accountability.

  • If you have a middle school child, he/she has probably said that "all of his/her friends are on Facebook" - and that's pretty much correct. I would probably say the majority of 8th graders do. If he/she is not using it in middle school, he/she will probably be using it in high school or beyond - unless he/she thinks it's a waste of time and as some have done - he/she "breaks up with his Facebook". (Breaking up with Facebook letter: http://www.drlaurablog.com/2008/01/14/breaking-up-with-facebook/#more-71) That doesn't mean it's right, though. You are the parents.

I would say that if you are going to allow your 13 year old to get a Facebook account:
  • You should sign up for one, too, so you know what it's all about.
  • You should "friend" him/her, so you can see what is on his/her Facebook. (You may not want to comment though, because that would embarrass him/her. - I did that once on my son's. You may be surprised though, that his friends may want to "friend" you and talk to you!) You can also check out the people on his/her "friends list" and their photos, etc.)
  • You should check his/her privacy settings so you know that they have been set up the best way.
  • Remind him/her that he/she should not "friend" anyone he/she does not know personally - not even a friend of a friend. He/she should not give out identifying information like home address, phone, email.
  • You may want to have him/her give you his/her password so you can log into the account and make sure the settings are still private enough.
  • Even though your child is a good kid, I may be concerned about what others do on their Facebooks, and he/she would be able to see their videos, photos, etc., though.
  • Pay attention to his/her behavior, mood, friends, etc. to see if there's any reason for concern.
  • Limit his/her time on Facebook.