Recent research says that over 7.5 milion of Facebook's users are under 13 with nearly 5 million under the age of 10. If Facebook were to lower the age restriction or remove it altogether, how would it affect kids and families? I can see it now, "Here's your child's birth certificate and their facebook login."
Safety is paramount of all activity online and among kids. Interesting legislation now in California regarding the rights of parents and Facebook. Article here: blog.socialshield.com/2011/5/18/california%E2%80%99s-sb-242-and-what-it-could-mean-for-social-networking.aspx
Given the recent appearance of Facebook (founded in 2003) I don't think we have had enough time to consider how to keep kids safe on Facebook. The growth in users has been so rapid, much like cell phones, that I see most of us defaulting to the rule, "Whatever my friends are doing with their kids, must be the thing to do." without knowledge of what Facebook is capable of.
So what's the answer?
Educate, educate, educate. Yes, the internet has its share of malintentioned users, just like every town in America. Yes, there are places we don't take our kids to because of the potential for danger. Avoidance though is different than taking the time to talk to your child about the dangers that exist and equipping him with the tools to remain safe while still finding ways to navigate the world around him.
If the internet were easy to turn on and off we might be having a different discussion. Given the high level of accessibility that we all have (kids included) to the internet and online communication the option to simply avoid it no longer can be considered a valid way of keeping kids safe.
"Can you recommend a good filter?" is the number one question parents ask when I speak at schools. The response, "Yes, any that Google pulls up on their first page of search results; but remember to go out and buy a box of bandaids." Like the bandaid that keeps your child safe from infection, every internet filter is a temporary solution, designed to provide momentary relief. And like many kids do with bandaids, internet filters can be removed. A quick search of "Net Nanny hacks" on Google yielded over 93,000 results--short articles written by kids for kids who want to remove the Net Nanny filter from their computer.
Two ideas: 1. Climb aboard the social media train. Start a profile and learn more about the technology that kids are using today so that you can have a conversation with your child.
2. Set the expectation of what's appropriate and not appropriate when it comes to web site content, Facebook posting, text messages, etc. Kids want to know where the boundaries are and it's their job to to push on those boundaries.