My 7 Year Old is on Facebook

Originally published on the now defunct on February 17th, 2011

Facebook is everywhere these days, there’s no denying that. From the news to movies, and even Mark Zuckerburg as Time’s Person of the Year for 2010. With over 500 million active users, if you haven’t joined, it’s almost as if you don’t exist. Even I, a steadfast holdout like no other, finally surrendered to its charms just a few months ago.

Which means it was only a matter of time before my 7 year old son asked for his own account.

I have to say, I wasn’t expecting to have this conversation with him for another 5 years, when I’m sure the sentiment would be that it’s more appropriate. Why does a 7 year need to be involved in social media? That’s a good question. To answer, it seems he had been discussing websites with a friend from school, when that friend mentioned he was on Facebook. That was his motivation, as it is most, he just wanted to join his friend. Then, when I suggested he could also add a few family members, the idea was quickly sealed.

The actual account is, of course, under my guidance and control. I’m not going to sign him up and let him roam free. I chose and saved his password. His information is kept private except to those I confirm, and even then it’s the bare minimum. All contact he receives is filtered through my email account. Any friend request has to pass by me first, and I’ve already ignored a few.

But does it make it okay?

This debate has been a constant one since he started using the computer to play games when he was 3. At what point are the best security measures not enough? Is anything truly safe once it’s been submitted in a public forum? I’ve been privy to the dangers lurking in a simple Google search. These are the exact reasons I use aliases for them on websites I frequent and write at. I watermark all images I include, and still delete the files after a limited amount of time even though I’m aware any file uploaded to the web leaves a lasting mark. The next logical step, then, is to add him to a network with 500 million active users, not all of which are going to operate with the best of intentions. Because I am nothing if not consistent in parenting.

Many moms and dads feel very strongly on this matter one way or another. One side may feel that I am, in essence, harming my son. There are even Facebook groups against elementary aged kids joining the site, the main reason being a violation of the rules. Which I understand, though I believe we’re in a loophole. This article from CNN detailed why a middle school principal from New Jersey urged parents to remove their child from the site. “Kids are mean”, he says, to paraphrase. Another group, however, sits on the other side of the fence where there is nothing wrong with it, or at least as long as the adult is in control of the situation. There are just as many predators in real life as online, and you can’t shelter your children from the world forever.

In the end, I chose the direction I was comfortable with. It’s not like he even knows how to use the thing. Yet. From the time we set it up, I’ve been on it much more than him. In 5 years, when he’s learned how to change the password and has blocked me from his page completely, I know it won’t be this easy.

What do you think? Would you let your 7 year old sign up on Facebook?