Friday May 11 2012 810 am
Katherine Rosman of the Wall Street Journal wrote an article last week that I found a bit scary. “Tweens’ Secret Lives Online” discussed the burgeoning use of social media sites aimed at kids. Sometimes parents know what their children are doing on these sites; other times, they don’t really have a clue.
The complexity of being–and raising–a kid in a digital world is a familiar topic at Uncharted Parent. For example, if you’ve been reading along, you know that ten-year-old “Jack” got his own email address a few months ago, and I found it somewhat painful to say yes to this request. But I recognize that our kids are growing up in a technological age and they need to learn–with our guidance–how to operate and cope with the technology that makes up their world.
But does a twelve-year-old really need a “personal brand”? (I’m assuming for the sake of this argument that said child hasn’t been cast in the next Hunger Games film. If I’m wrong about that, well, then, this kid falls into a different category.) I appreciate the value of a website that allows kids, say, to design their own clothes, but why is a social media component necessary? Why the focus so early in life in “creating content,” teaching kids to present images of themselves that may or may not reflect who they really are, creating personas and trying to understand if the people with whom they’re interacting really are the people they claim to be?
What’s the rush?
There are reasons Facebook has a minimum age requirement, at least in theory. One reason is that adults and older teens are the primary users of the site. A related reason is that a degree of maturity is required to sift through the complexities of social media use. Do these content-creating kids truly understand that what they put on the Internet will be there forever? Do they know what “forever” means? Do they know what to do if they are bullied, or if they come across someone bullying someone else? Do they understand that photos they post can travel anywhere? Do they know what information to keep to themselves, always?
I’m the first person to stand up for kids having access to computers and learning about the digital world in an age-appropriate manner. In fact, I just told seven-year-old “Emmie” yesterday that I thought we’d been neglecting her computer education and we need to spend more time with her online, showing her around, teaching her how certain things work. In places where kids don’t have access to computers or internet connections due to economic circumstances, they suffer a real disadvantage that can have lifetime consequences, and that’s something society needs to consider when making policy decisions.
But. Don’t forget that kids are still kids. Letting kids use Instagram for photography is one thing, but make sure that’s what they’re doing with it. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that a kid like the one in Rosman’s article can use Instagram as a work-around to solve the problem of not being allowed to use Facebook. Kids are often more agile with technology than their parents. Earlier this week, my own ten-year-old solved in two minutes a computer problem that had stumped me, my Mac-savvy friend and an intern at a conference.
I’m glad my son feels comfortable with technology. But at this age, my husband and I considerably restrict his online activities, heavily supervise them* and subject him to plenty of questioning. It’s not convenient, but we believe it’s necessary.
Maybe I’m overprotective. I’ve heard some good things about Disney’s Club Penguin. And maybe highly supervised use of a Facebook fan page for the young dancer described in Rosman’s article makes sense, just as a child truly intrigued by fashion design might find a creative outlet in FashionPlaytes. Maybe I’m a troglodyte for viewing all of these with a skeptical eye.
But I am skeptical. I’m more than skeptical. And I can’t imagine turning my eight, ten, twelve-year-old child loose on any of these sites and saying, “Okay, honey, just be careful.” Parental responsibility can’t end there.
Judge for yourself. Read Rosman’s article. What do you think?
*To clarify: We don’t sit beside our son while he’s at the computer and watch his every move. There lies the path to madness for everyone. But the family computer is located in a public place, any passwords he has are available to us, he has to answer all questions about his use at any time and he knows that we can and occasionally do check on his emails and internet search history. Consistent responsibility over time will earn him some privacy down the road. A lack of responsibility will result in loss of privileges.