As I posted yesterday, two news stories caught my eye early this week: a mother attacking her child’s bully and Facebook taking measures to lower the age restriction on their site. I view both instances as ‘wins’ for cyberbullying.
Today, I’ll share some thoughts on why lowering the age restriction could be detrimental to our children.
In case you were unaware, Facebook’s age restriction is currently 13 years of age, complying with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Yet, 7.5 million profiles on Facebook are operated by users younger than 13-years old! I’ve found myself speaking to students in the 4th grade about online behavior, particularly on Facebook, then asking, “Does your mother know you have a profile?”
Usually, a precocious giggle answers my question.
I have my reservations regarding Facebook’s attempt to lower the age restriction. First and foremost, a child as young as 10 is, developmentally, eons behind a 13 year old. To fully conceptualize that social networking sites allow – literally – the whole world into the house is beyond the developmental capacity for younger children. Even teenagers (and some adults) have had a difficult time remembering this!
Most importantly though, I find the greatest danger is that the social and emotional skills children develop in real life, face-to-face, relationships will be circumvented if we allow younger children to do their socializing online.
Young children, as we know, react when faced with great emotions (just watch a 6th grade lunch room!). Parents and teachers alike are trying to help children thoughtfully respond in high pressure situations. The depersonalized experience of online social networking does not foster developing healthy social and emotional skills.
We already see this problem in our adolescents who are legally allowed to have social networking site profiles. I’ve often discussed with students why they take enormous emotional risks. such as name calling, posting embarrassing pictures, or breaking up with romantic partners online. As expected, young people say it’s easier – you do not have to face a real life person.
But it’s facing a real life person and working through the conflict that helps our young people grow into emotionally healthy adults. If we open social networking sites like Facebook up to young children who do not have the full mental capacity to self-regulate their emotions, we are making it easier for bullies to bully. Parents are just starting to understand the negative ramification of social networking, and can barely keep up to keep their children safe.
Is there a compromise since we do know that children as young as 10 have social networking site profiles? Maybe creating a whole separate site for our tweens (10 to 12 year olds)? Allowing tweens to have limited profile capabilities? Enforcing that an adult account must be linked to a tween account?
What do you think?
Young boy with tablet computer photo available from Shutterstock.