By Jeana Lee Tahnk
Parenting.comThere's no doubt you've heard all the recent chatter about Facebook "exploring" options for lifting the current age requirement and allowing children under the age of 13 access to the social network. The Internet has been abuzz since the Wall Street Journal originally reported the story stating,
"Facebook is developing technology that would allow children younger than 13 years old to use the social-networking site under parental supervision, a step that could help the company tap a new pool of users for revenue but also inflame privacy concerns."
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Facebook is still years away from my little ones' reach and interest level, but as a parent raising kids in this digital age, I'm concerned. I know the time will come when one of them comes home and asks for a profile because " everyone at school has one." If this Facebook age requirement is eliminated, that time may come much sooner than I think.
There are an estimated 7.5 million underage kids already on Facebook ( Consumer Reports ), and according to a separate Microsoft survey of 1,000+ parents, almost 20 percent of their 10-year-olds already have profiles online. One can only imagine how those numbers will exponentially increase the moment that age restriction is lifted. The thought of openly allowing kids in elementary school and even younger on this social network is worrisome, to say the least. Kids in this age group just aren't developmentally mature enough to understand the complexities of online interactions, let alone be prepared for the potential dangers they face when doing so.
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The hope is that whenever kids are on Facebook (even those whose parents are helping them lie to get on), they are being monitored, friended by parents and are kept a close eye on. But the reality is that once the door opens to social networking, it won't be closed and a whole new realm of parental responsibility comes into play. Under the right circumstances and in a thoroughly monitored environment, Facebook can be a great way for kids to connect with family and friends near and far. But if some parents are letting their kids spend two hours or more on the iPad alone each day, there is no way that they can be monitored thoroughly at every moment they are online. In addition to the risk of exposure to inappropriate content, there are also many potential threats like cyberbullying and Facebook Depression, which the AAP says can be a risk of overexposure to social media.
Facebook has remained quiet on the matter, but there is plenty of discussion about whether this is the right move for the company. Stephen Balkam, CEO and Founder of FOSI (Family Online Safety Institute), recently expressed his opinion in the Washington Post on how this initiative could indeed be a positive way for parents and kids to be introduced to social networks together. But the wide majority of discussion and Internet chatter oppose the move. A recent poll by Mashable found that of 5,100+ readers asked, the majority overwhelmingly said they would NOT support an under-13 category on Facebook.
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Common Sense Media is also bringing its disdain to the public and has launched a petition on Change.org asking concerned digital citizens to voice their opposition. The petition letter reads as follows:
I just signed a petition that calls for Facebook to stop its plans to allow kids under 13 on Facebook.
There is absolutely no proof of any meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13. Indeed, there are very legitimate concerns about privacy as well as its impact on the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children.
By opening the site up to kids younger than 13, Facebook's strategy appears to be: hook children early, build the brand, and create customers for life, regardless of the consequences.
Parents and educators agree this is a terrible idea: young children do not need to be on social networks with 1000 friends when they are 7 or 8 years old. Kids this young are still learning to navigate their offline life - learning how to play and engage with others - and don't need the added complexity of managing an online social profile. What's next, Facebook for toddlers?
I hope you will take the concerns of parents seriously and reconsider your plans to allow kids under 13 on Facebook.
What do you think about Facebook's potential move to attract the next generation of digital citizens? Like or dislike? And will you sign the petition?