Thursday, July 28, 2011

Is Facebook Bad for Children?

I will admit I am one of Facebook's biggest fans. I use it for work, I use it for leisure, I use it about 8 hours a day. I think it is a great social and marketing tool and it is one I wouldn't like to go without.

That said, I am not a child.

As much as I love Facebook, I don't have the debating skills to convince anyone that Facebook is GOOD for children, nor would I try. I can however say I do not believe Facebook is BAD for children.

Facebook is a tool. It is a social and marketing platform, it is software, data and little electronic pulses. It was built to connect people and provide a medium for communication. It is a thing and alone cannot be either bad or good.

Facebook can provide a connection for families who are separated. It can be a link to members over seas, or even just to parents living in another house. It provides a free and open way to communicate, which children can benefit from. Facebook also provides parents with an opportunity to discuss issues of safety and talk about social responsibility or being a good cyber citizen.

There is an age limit on Facebook for a reason. Parents who ignore this age limit and help children to set up their own pages before they are 13 have no place complaining about the negative repercussions.

It is not Facebook that is bad, the way in which it is utilised is the problem. There are dangers for children on Facebook. There is cyber-bullying, there are sexual predators, there is explicit content (even though they try to remove it quickly). There are all of these things in the real world and on any social networking site.

Children need to learn to operate in the real world but knowing the dangers and giving your children free access to the platform is just bad parenting. If you knew there was a sex pest working at the local store, would you send your children there alone? Why allow children of any age access to a platform where they could be targeted or exposed?

A study in 2000 by Envision showed 70% of children have accidentally stumbled on to Internet porn while researching on the internet. The same study showed only 33% of homes have filters to stop children accessing dangerous sites. 34% of teens admit to talking to people they don't know online and 79% admit they are not careful about sharing their personal details (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2005). Maybe a bigger issue that Facebook is where are the parents? Why aren't we monitoring who children are talking to and what they are talking about?

Facebook is a network for adults who can responsibly make decisions about who they interact with and the information they share. Children cannot be expected to make these decisions when they have no experience with the topics. Parents need to have a conversation with their children about safety, privacy and responsible web use. If these conversations are too hard, if you don't have time to vigilantly monitor your child's internet access, then your children has no place on Facebook or on the internet at all. Facebook is not bad for children, irresponsible and complacent parenting is bad for children.

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