Kids on Facebook. It’s inevitable. Let’s find a way to make it work.

19 Mar

ComScore, a business that measures and estimates “digital market intelligence” released its finding that “3.6 million of Facebook’s 153 million monthly visitors in the U.S. are under 12” (quote from Social Times’ article about the news).  Social Times, picked up the story and the author, Kenna McHugh, (who self-identifies as the parent of a tween) seems like he really doesn’t get it.  He focuses on the fact that children are lying (often with their parents’ knowledge – horrors!) to sign up for Facebook before their thirteenth birthday and that we’re creating a generation of liars.  (Facebook requires all users to be 13 or older and requires you to enter your date of birth (with year) when you sign up.  So, kids who have Facebook profiles before they’re thirteen must have selected a birth year other than their real one.)

And, yeah, it’s true that kids are lying about their age to get on Facebook, but the bigger problem is that Facebook is one of the country’s most popular means of communication and connection and a whole group of people are being kept out of it.  And they’re not happy about that.

Almost every ad that you see tells you to go to the company’s Facebook page.  Billboards direct you to “visit Facebook.com/__________” to learn more.  And, these kids want to learn more.  They want to be part of what’s going on in culture and to know about cool “grown up” things.  Also, they want to engage with with older siblings, cousins, friends, neighbors, etc.

My youngest sister is ten years younger than me.  Facebook came out when I was in college, so she was about ten or so at the time that it started to get really popular.  And, she wanted to participate.  She’d hear my other siblings and I talking about the pictures someone posted of their vacation or a cool link that we’d come across and want to see them, too.  And that’s only natural.   (No, she didn’t join Facebook before she was 13, but I’d regularly let her log in on my account and let her have at it.  I still do that with my Mom.)

McHugh discusses the many social networking sites targeted at tweens.  Produced by Disney and the like, they’re meant for kids only and are pretty highly walled gardens.  He seems to think that one of those could replace Facebook for kids.  He’s got to be joking.  Had I suggested to my sister that she join one of those instead, I would have gotten the nastiest look…

For some reason, I don't think parents conversations with their kids about who they're talking to online will always be this happy...

So, here are the facts:

Kids under 13 will want to join Facebook.  If we don’t let them do so, they’ll figure out how to do it anyway.  (As someone who regularly entered fake birthdays and such on the internet as a kid, I can attest to this.)  So, we need to figure out a way to make it work.

And, here’s my proposal:

If a kid under 13 wants to join Facebook, he can, but he needs someone over 13 who is already on Facebook to take responsibility for his account and his online interactions.  Parents, older siblings, etc. (a kid’s responsible party on Facebook) can create junior accounts tied to their accounts for kids under 13.  All friend requests will need to be approved by the senior account and they can monitor the child’s newsfeed, messages, etc. as they would their own.  This puts the  “parenting” back on the parents and takes the responsibility away from Facebook.  When a kid turns 13 (or whatever age is agreed upon when the junior account is created), it becomes a stand alone account and the senior account loses its monitoring privileges.

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