default_cyberbullying

This is a common question I receive from many parents: “At what age should I give my child a cell phone or allow them to be on Facebook?” Of course this is not an easy question to answer since every child is different and parents themselves are probably in the best position to determine the most appropriate age. That said, I usually advise parents to think about allowing access to certain devices or web environments a little bit earlier than they might think is the right time. The issue really is that parents need to be the ones who introduce the technology to the child, not the youth’s peers. If parents wait too long or try to convince themselves that their child has no interest in Facebook, then odds are good that the child will learn about the site from a friend and set up a profile without the parent’s knowledge.

I recently spoke to a teacher who is a parent of a 5th grader who asked my opinion about whether her son should be on Facebook. I told her that it probably wasn’t a good idea. It is a violation of Facebook’s terms of use, and agree with them or not, parents shouldn’t encourage their children to break the rules. Thankfully there are many other emerging sites that are designed exclusively for tweens, such as Togetherville, which interfaces with Facebook. Admittedly, it is difficult to get younger social networkers excited about these alternatives since “all of their friends are already on Facebook.”

And some data suggests that they are right: Consumer Reports recently reported that as many as 13% of Facebook’s American users are under the age of 13 (about 7.5 million kids). And half or more of the students I speak to Facebook hasn’t completely ignored their rules, however, as they reportedly remove tens of thousands of under-aged youth every day. Of course if a user lies about his or her age when setting up the profile, it is very difficult for Facebook to know whether someone is underage so they rely on reports of violators.

This leads to another question I get: “If I see a person on Facebook who I know to be under 13, should I report the user?” This too is a complicated question. My response used to automatically be “yes.” If they are violating the rules, they should not be on the site. I have tempered my response a bit in recent months, informed by insights from colleagues, educators, and Internet safety experts. In general, whether or not to report an under-aged user depends on whether you have a concern about them being on the site—based on what you know about the user and/or what you see on his or her profile. If you are worried that their activities on Facebook could lead to significant social, educational, physical, or other problems, then you have an obligation to report (to the site or the youth’s parents, or both). If you see a 12-year-old whom you know well who is on the site and they have their privacy settings adjusted so that all of their information is protected to the maximum extent possible, perhaps it isn’t necessary to report the user. You still might want to take the person aside and talk about some of the concerns you have (posting too much personal or identifiable information, meeting someone in real life who they only know online, including gossiping or harassing content, etc.) to encourage him or her to continue making good decisions about their online activities. As Larry Magid, tech journalist and internet safety advocate points out, changing the rules to allow younger users on Facebook would create opportunities for the site to incorporate protections that just aren’t in place when kids lie about their age. This is certainly a perspective that should be considered.

Overall, parents should provide gradual and guided access to technology. Maybe, for example, you give your son a cell phone at age 10, but to start the only persons he can call are mom and dad. After a couple of months if he demonstrates appropriate behaviors you can add selected others. Then add texting. Show him the cell phone bill every month so he knows his contribution to the family expenses. Stress that the phone is a privilege that can be taken away with misuse. If he makes a mistake, take a step back. If he is texting at the dinner table, explain to him why this is unacceptable. If he is talking to friends all hours of the night, confiscate the phone for a while. I suspect that if more parents were actively involved in encouraging the responsible use of technology, even at a relatively young age, there would be fewer and less serious problems later in their adolescent lives.

9 Comments
  1. sharon

    this site is of big help to me especially im a teacher of computer eduction and i would meet parents complaining about their child using the internet not of educational purposes

  2. Renee

    Great post! Well explained! I never thought about it from this perspective! I will be doing Internet safety presentations for parents at the start of the next school year and I will surely use some of this info (giving credit to you, of course, as I always do!).

  3. crystal mcsenney

    I think this kids should stop cybullying. then if they cybullying to other people i think they should wach the movie cybullying on abc family because it is a sad moive because when kids get cybullying to other people they really what to kill them self and that happed's in the movie cybullying in the movie so don't do this at all kids u will go to juvie

  4. Rosie Eutten

    I think this is a great article because it sets a really good topic that parents and guardians should think about because of all the drama and other things that goes on these types of social networks.

  5. Angela B

    Great article.

    There are some applications that do help with monitoring against cyber bullies on Facebook parents can look into.

  6. Jennifer

    “parents need to be the ones who introduce the technology to the child, not the youth’s peers.”

    This is very hard to be proactive on but it makes sense. This is the opportunity for opening the lines of communication and teaching the child about appropriate behaviors, problems that may be encountered, and consequences for not abiding by the rules.

    “It is a violation of Facebook’s terms of use, and agree with them or not, parents shouldn’t encourage their children to break the rules”

    Excellent point! We are an important role model in our child’s life and need to set good examples the best that we can. This would be in the child’s best interest and teach the child the importance of following the rules. This would also be a great opportunity to discuss why those rules are set and what could happen if and has happened because the rules weren’t followed.

    “If I see a person on Facebook who I know to be under 13, should I report the user?”

    Wow! Now that’s a good question that I never thought about. I think you have a good response for this question. I might add that discussing it with the child’s parents might be a good idea. This might open up a line of communication that didn’t exist and possibly prevent serious consequences in the future. Hopefully the parents aren’t ones to just “turn the computer off” and takes the time to educate both themselves and their children on social networking and using electronic devices.

    I love the transitions you offer for giving children access to technology. As parents, we have to arm our children for the cyberworld. It’s time consuming but we have to treat it like any other learning experience such as driving a car, applying to colleges, searching for a job, or crossing the street. We need to make sure our children are prepared!

  7. Patty

    I can relate to this post … I teach 7th and 8th graders and I hear them talk about their Facebook accounts all the time. I know they are too young to have an account but it is not my place to tell them to cancel it or to report them. What I do tell them (ok, I preach this over and over) is to be careful of what they post, how much information they make public, and who they “friend”. I try to make them understand that they do not need hundreds of friends. How many of those are real friends anyways? Most of them do not take my advise seriously but if I can help at least one student then I feel it was worth it.

    I understand that parents are usually very busy but it is extremely important that they be aware of what their children are doing on the Internet, what social sites they are joining, and find ways to monitor their postings. Peer pressure is very strong at this stage in their life and it is too easy for teens to be swayed the wrong way. If nothing else, parents should talk to their children about the correct way to communicate on the Internet and point out the dangers that teens can face on the Web.

    I like the idea of introducing a young child to technology one step at a time and that consequences are applied if the technology is misused. Immediate action is crucial in ensuring that the rules are internalized and followed closely. Use of cell phone at school should be discussed with young children so that they understand that there are consequences for using the phone inappropriately at school also.

  8. John Appelhans

    Some 5 year old kids would be fine with Facebook accounts, while some high school kids should NEVER be allowed on the site. It all comes down to personal and familial accountability/responsibility. Facebook is a an amazing tool, and in the right cyber hands can be educationally and social viable. I don’t support externally-imposed constraints. Families of school age children are in the best position to do that. And for families who allow their children to roam unsupervised in cyber-space…well, they are probably the same families who let their kids run the streets. Let’s not punish the responsible for the actions of the irresponsible.

  9. MOM

    So what do you do with the former spouse and their wife when they allow the child who I might add is twelve and breaking the rules of face book by having a face book page. It was just created. I have told both my daughters that they are not allowed until they are 15 and in H.S. like their older two sisters were. First it is not fair to the older two sisters, second it is not fair that the younger sister has a face book and that the 14 year old does not ( which means that the father and the stepmother are playing favorites in the house hold) and last but not least it goes against the face book rules and is teaching her to lie when her FATHER is SO an ass when it comes to this and calls the 14 year old a pathological liar all the time. Do you think I am just a little upset? (MOM)

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