Should kids be allowed to use Facebook?
Published 02/06/2011 | 05:00
Children younger than 13 should be allowed to use Facebook, the social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has said. At present, Irish children are technically barred from using the site under the site’s own rules. Facebook’s 13-and-over age limit was set to comply with American privacy laws.
Kim Bielenberg: Yes
The first reason for allowing 11 and 12-year-olds into the world of social networking is that there is a good chance that they are already there. According to recent estimates in the United States, up to 7.5 million Facebook users at present are under the age of 13.
Parents may ban their children from going on to the site, but unless they are standing over them for every online minute they can easily log on to it by entering a false age. If they do not manage to do it at home they can do it when they are visiting friends.
Rather than having children log on to the site furtively, parents should take some control of the matter. The children should be given instructions in how to use it properly, how to maintain privacy with suitable settings, and who they should communicate with. Access can be confined to a close circle of friends and family.
The danger from paedophiles and other adult strangers is frequently cited as a reason for keeping children off the internet.
For generations in the offline world kids have been told not to talk to strangers. The rules online are no different. Parents should always keep tabs on the people who are meeting their children.
Of course there should be limits to online activity. By the age of 11 and 12, most children are like mini-teenagers, who can be eased into the world of social networking.
Younger children are unlikely to be ready for it, and so different rules should apply.
When children are just starting out on Facebook there is no harm in checking, secretly if necessary, what they are up to. One way of doing this is to subscribe to the site yourself.
Since millions of children below the age of 13 are already on the site, Facebook should be allowed to adapt it so that it is suitable for them. Perhaps there should be a more childish version suitable for a younger age group.
Of course, there is bullying on Facebook, but there are remedies for that. The perpetrators can be blocked, and dealt with in other ways through parents and teachers.
Trying to close off the online world from a child because there is a perceived danger of bullying could be as pointless as barring them from a playground because they are in danger of being roughed up there.
There is little point in an age bar being maintained on Facebook if it is not enforceable and children are given free access to other sites.What guarantees are there that the sites they are visiting are any more appropriate for their age? Parents could decide to ban the internet completely for all children under 13, but would they be preparing them for the real world?
Social networking has become part of modern life. It is better that older children learn about the benefits and pitfalls of this activity than for them to be sheltered completely.
At some point children have to be taught how to cross a busy road, and made aware of the potential dangers.
The internet is no different.
John Costello: No
Mark Zuckerberg must be stopped. The only reason children under 13 are currently banned from using Facebook is because of American laws relating to the collection of personal information on young people. It has nothing to do with Facebook putting the best interests of your children first.
Cyber bullying already affects one-in-five children in Ireland, according to UNICEF. Being bullied is scary, but imagine the capability of that bully to target you not only at school or in the youth club, but every time you log on to Facebook via your computer or mobile? And those mocking messages of hate will be there for all your Facebook friends to see.
You may think that the privacy settings on Facebook will help, but there are over 6,000 videos alone on YouTube devoted to hacking Facebook accounts.
The site has been repeatedly criticised for its poor online security when it comes to dealing with appalling cases involving bullies, criminals and sexual predators. It was finally forced to install a 'panic button' for children recently, after years of refusing to do so.
But if bullies or paedophiles stalking your child for some reason does not ring alarm bells, then ask yourself if you would allow your child to sit in on your gossipy conversations with your friends and colleagues.
While you may not post content on your Facebook updates that is unsuitable for child's eyes, can you vouch for all your Facebook 'friends'? Facebook simply provides too many opportunities for children to be exposed to adult content and conversations they should not be part of.
However, even if your child avoids the minefield of bullies, adult-orientated content and paedophiles, there is one huge overriding factor that should ensure you log your child off Facebook.
Children are not developed or socially aware enough to handle the immediacy of social media. Schoolyard taunts and squabbles can turn much nastier in the perceived vacuum of the internet where the safeguards of teachers and parents seemingly disappear.
It may be a result of ignorance, lack of knowledge and poor social development, but children can be incredibly cruel to each other. At the best of times children often fail to curb their anti-social impulses. The anonymity of the internet only encourages the worst aspects of that type of behaviour.
The stupidity of people who have been fired from their jobs because of comments they posted on Facebook may make you laugh, but if adults can't handle the pitfalls of social media, what chance does a 12-year-old child have?
Mark Zuckerberg believes in radical transparency. He has said that Facebook's goal is to make the world more open, connected and transparent. "That's really important as we try to solve some of the world's problems," he says. Very laudable, maybe -- but also very naive.
Children need protective boundaries to grow, learn and mature in a safe environment. So would you want your child to live in a world where the boundaries between them and the outside world disappear?
Because, in Zuckerberg's ideal world it is not only your privacy that is obsolete, but also your child's. And, from a parent's perspective, that is simply not a good thing.