Kids & Computers: 7 Year Olds on Facebook? Really?

This post is by regular contributor Kate Fairlie of Picklebums.

I am generally skeptical about articles like this one from the BBC News website ‘Children’s Screen Habits Revealed. I find that often the way statistics are quoted is somewhat sensational and alarmist; with journalists picking out bits and pieces from the research to suit their agenda without giving you all of the information and allowing you to make up your own mind. But reading this article I found myself bowled over by some of the quoted statistics….

“A third (36%) of seven to 10-year olds visited Facebook in the week before the survey was conducted”

Seven to ten year olds on Facebook?

At seven years of age they are talking about my twin girls.

Our three big kids (including the 3.5 year old) are very capable computer users. They know how to use the computer with little assistance and use the  internet on occasion too. It’s hardly surprising since they see me regularly spending time on the computer and online, it is part of every day life at our house.  But I am not even sure if my girls know what Facebook is, let alone have any desire to use it? So I asked them:

Do you know what Facebook is?
“Facebook is on the internet”

And what do you do on that website?
“Um… You catch up with friends.”

Do you know anyone who uses Facebook?
“Daddy, and some other adults we know”

Do you want to use Facebook?
“Nah, I like Bellville (Lego) and Barbie games, or Reading Eggs “

So they do know what Facebook is! That is interesting in itself… but thankfully they don’t seem the least bit interested in using it right now.

However, if my girls wanted to use Facebook, would I let them?

Right now, at age seven, my answer would be a definite no. I can’t see any reason why they would need a Facebook account and they are not mature enough to manage one. Especially on a site like Facebook with its ever changing privacy settings and where it is too easy to share personal information without realising it. If they wanted to ‘catch up with friends’ as they put it, I’d happily set them up with an email address that we’d manage together. But no social networking sites, not at this stage.

In a few years?
What about when they are ten?
What about when they are 13 and meet the age requirement for a Facebook account?

As they get older I know this question will come up for real and probably a lot sooner than I’d like.  I am not a total wowser, I can see how kids could use and enjoy Facebook but I am just not sure how comfortable I’ll be when my kids start to use social networking sites.

But lots of moments in my parenting life make me feel uncomfortable, and sometimes downright scared, but that is not always a reason to say no. As they get older my plan is to allow them accounts on social networking sites (perhaps beginning with a site specifically designed for kids) that we share control over, with the understanding that I would want to know and see what they are doing online and that some parts of social networking sites are not okay until they are older.

I don’t believe that the internet is necessarily bad for children or even inherently unsafe, but I do think that I need to be active in the way I supervise and interact with my children while online. I want to be a part of my child’s online life, just as I want to be a part of their life off-line. I want my children to be informed about how to use technology safely and appropriately and I want to stay informed about that too.

Recently the girls bought home a Computer Use Agreement from school. Based on The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s guidelines, a set of rules were discussed at school, information was then sent home and all students and parents were asked to sign the agreement.

It includes things like –
‘I will never tell anyone my full name, home address or phone number’
‘I will not use rude language’
‘I know my work on the computer is not private and I must save it carefully’

For our girls, in grade one, some of the guidelines aren’t relevant right now, but they provide a good grounding for the future and it has begun a dialogue about why some sites are not okay for children and about how to be safe online. It’s a dialogue I hope we’ll continue, because computers and the internet are part of our daily lives. And while at the moment I’d rather see my kids outside or building lego, or drawing, or playing fairies, or even (eye roll!) playing Barbies, I know that one day the screen and sites like Facebook will play a greater part in their lives and I want that to happen in a safe and fun way.

What are your thoughts about children and social networking sites? Does your school have an agreement or policy on computer use?

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  1. My daughter is 4 years old and she doesn’t go on the internet, but she uses our iPod touch sometimes to play educational games that we’ve downloaded.

    I definitely would not want her using facebook at age 7, or even at all! I kind of have a funky outlook on Facebook. It is called Social Networking, yes, but I am not sure that it’s the proper type of Social Networking.. I think that people can become more apathetic when interacting with people on line, as opposed to face-to-face social networking. Does that make sense?

    I don’t know. Perhaps my feelings will change when my daughter gets older but Facebook doesn’t seem like a good place for young kids to me.

    1. I think that is my biggest fear about social networking sites – that people are detached from reality and so say and do things that they normally wouldn’t. It’s one reason why I really don’t think even a 13 year old is old enough to manage an account on their own.

      But I do think that online social networking is here to stay, with all its positives and negatives so I’m trying to stay open minded and I intend to be proactive and involved so I can teach my kids how to use it in a safe and appropriate manner… when they are older!

  2. Lol, my daughter was asked to sign one of those computer use agreements…. when she was going in to prep…. at 4yrs of age! They seemed miffed when I pointed out she couldn’t even read what she was supposed to be signing. Finally they said, oh its just education qld policy. hmm.

  3. Crafty Mummy says:

    It’s a tough question – and a little scary as a mum!

    I use Facebook. My kids see me use it every day and they understand what it is about. My laptop is on the kitchen table a lot so they also have some understanding of blogging, email, online calendars, Skype, twitter, photo editing and games.

    I often talk about what I’m doing online with them, especially my super curious 7 yr old girl. I talk about the fact that the people I talk to on FB are real people I really know. I talk about how if I can edit a photo on Picasa and remove the spots, then someone can edit any photo online and change how people look as well. I talk about how the people who visit my blog could be anyone and they can use “pretend” names just like I do. I talk about why I use “CraftyMummy” a lot online. I hope that some of it goes in and that one day she’ll remember.

    I won’t let her use FB although she wants to. It’s a novelty to her but none of her friends use it. I do let her play games on selected sites but I don’t let her play in virtual worlds. There’s plenty of time for that later.

    1. I think the fact that you have a dialogue about this stuff already will stand you in good stead later… well I hope so because that is what I’m doing too! 🙂

  4. Wow, 7 year olds on facebook! I find that really quite troubling, but sadly, not surprising. Children are so impressionable, it only takes one friend to have an account to spur 6 more to want one.

    I see no need for children to be on social networking sites, they are adult domains and as such should be left that way. Once my children are in highschool I will allow them to have a facebook account (or whatever is in vogue by that time), but until then, no siree.


  5. My almost 8yo has pretty free range on the internet but with monitoring. She has made a few mistakes like using her full name to register on a website and once writing down our phone number in a story she wrote when she had a blog. We had rehash the rules but she didn’t always remember them. They were pretty low key mistakes and quickly fixable because I was monitoring. After she commented on a few youtube clips I banned her from doing that because people sometimes responded rudely if they disagreed. I assume because it was kid oriented videos it was other young users. This shifted me to a policy that she cannot yet participate in any discussions online as yet, such as leaving comments, forums and so on. She mostly sticks to kids websites, some googling of info and youtube for music anyway. She uses my mum’s cat’s account to play games on Facebook, with instructions not to read or participate on the wall. She will probably be allowed to make her own page (monitored) when she leaves primary school to keep in touch with her friends.

    I’ve also told her to shut it down or call me if she ever sees anything inappropriate. She is building trust because she told me not to watch a youtube fan video which had pictures of Gabriella and Troy kissing LOL I check her viewed videos and activity on youtube and browser history and email. I usually do this when she has something on her computer she needs help with, so she is very aware that she is being monitored. There is no expectation of privacy, which isn’t an issue for her at this age, but hopefully she’ll be well used to it by the time it might be! As time goes on I’ll ease up, let email contents etc be private.

    There are so many issues to navigate from keeping them safe from other’s behaviour to ensuring theirs is of a high standard. In many ways I feel like social networking is actually much safer than how people reached out online in the past. Before facebook, most of my communication was with “strangers”. Now some of those strangers are friends on facebook but the majority are people I have connections to from other aspects of my life. I would much prefer my teenager be interacting with people they know online, than creating friendships with unknown quantities. Also she will soon be called on bad behaviour by all the older rellies and my friends I am sure she’ll friend as soon as she gets on there if she is writing anything feral!

    1. I like the idea that opening monitoring them now will hopefully at least put off the time when they feel they have a ‘right to privacy online’.

      And I agree… I started out online on IRC – anonymous chat rooms where everyone had a pseudonym and there were no photos and no real life connections to ensure these people who they said they were…. no wonder my parents were freaked out, and I was in my 20s!

  6. I do reading with my sons class (6/7 years olds) Last week we were reading a book where two friends were writing to each other, they started writing letters and postcards and then sending faxes. I asked the group how else they might stay in touch with a friend who moved away, expecting email as the answer, and was surprised when a couple of them called out Facebook.

    My kids (almost 7 and almost 11) use our computer for Reading Eggs, games on the ABC Kids website and Barbie websites and just recently both started playing Club Penguin.
    They both know about Facebook, Twitter and blogs but aren’t interested in any of it thank goodness as even at almost 11 I think they are too young for social networking sites.
    I think even in the early years of high school I would have to put alot of consideration into them having their own facebook account.

  7. Facebook to me is the least value social networking site – YouTube and blogs are also part of social networking. I would be much more inclined to set up a blog for my daughter because it gives her much more scope to do useful things. Plus I can get the RSS and know exactly what is happening! It also gives me a few years because she can’t get one until she can write.
    They can be set with all sorts of privacy so only particular users can be invited, a much safer way for kids to dip their toes in and learn how it works.

    1. I am waiting for the day my girls ask about starting a blog 😉

      They already ‘blog’ at school (as in they write a class diary on the schools intranet) and I’d be happy to help them blog at home, because I agree, it is much easier to monitor and control and has much more value.

  8. Since technology is such a big part of the world right now, it is hard to determine only when is it “appropriate” for kids to be involved. Lots of technology is great for kids, like games on the iPad or iPhone, or even interactive nursery rhymes (really such a thing. It’s really amazing). But I guess when it comes to Facebook, I think it’s okay to let them know what it is, but restrict them to just playing Facebook games like Farmville until they get older. Just my two cents.

  9. My kids are both on Facebook at ages 7 and 9 and they seem to manage things plenty responsibly and have a great time. Their interest in FB waxes and wanes. My daughter (the 9 y.o.) handles FB responsibly and with a lot of humor. Hearing people weigh in on a certain age, as if all kids of that age regardless of circumstances can/can’t handle Y, Y, or Z, leaves me cold.

    1. You are right… I don’t think there is any ‘one right age for all kids’.

      My girls especially are not as mature socially and emotionally as others their age, so I’d probably tend to err on the side of caution for that reason.

      Facebook does have a minimum user age though and was recently in the news because people felt they weren’t doing enough to stop under age users. I know their minimum age is more about legally covering themselves, but do you think they should allow younger kids access with parental permission?

      1. @katepickle
        That’s a good question and one I can’t answer. The truth is, many parents are letting their kids have access even tho’ it’s against FB rules. FB has everything to lose (from their perspective) by changing things. Let’s not forget FB has displayed a lot of silliness before. I hardly look to them for landmark progressive nor family-friendly policies.

  10. My eldest is not quite 5 and only uses the computer for Reading Eggs or Red Fish so hopefully we won’t have to worry about facebook for a while yet.

    1. That’s a really interesting post, scary, but interesting. Thanks for sharing the link.

      I’m very keen on the idea of keeping computers in shared spaces in our house, the same with TV. And monitoring and talking… I think that is important too.

      One thing that article didn’t touch on was teaching kids how to use social media appropriately… how not to be an online bully. How not to sit by and watch someone else be bullied which is something a friend recently bought up which I found really interesting.

  11. I spent the last several years teaching in the lower elementary grades, but last year I switched to upper elementary. I was quite surprised to discover that almost every 5th grade student (10-11 year olds) was on Facebook! Later, I was talking about this with a mom of one of the 5th graders, and she told me that has ‘friended’ all of her son’s classmates, so that she can monitor what they are all up to and to give them a sense that a trusted adult is ‘present’, looking out for them. I am also ‘friends’ with that mom on FB, and I have noticed that from time to time she posts status updates that are along the lines of ‘fb etiquette’, clearly aimed at the kids. I don’t agree with 5th graders being on FB, but I did think that mom had a pretty good idea. If it seems to be basically unavoidable (and every 5th grade student at our school is computer savvy enough to sign themselves up anyway), at least having responsible adults in their friend lists may keep them more aware.

  12. Miss 4 easily recognizes Facebook, Twitter and (at least one of my) blogs, and if I am online will ask me what certain people are talking about because she recognizes their avatar.

    She DOES use facebook, but only playing games, and only with my supervision. She used to watch her Aunt (who lives with us) playing her games, and harassed me until I gave in and signed us up. We play together and it is the most frustrating part of my day, but it does get her sitting relatively quietly after a big day at Kinder.

    She can easily navigate herself to if she is given more computer time, but I still have to load ABC for Kids as it doesn’t have anything obvious about it when going to the drop down menu.

    She has her own email account, only because she asked me to send her an email once when I was working, so I created an account and sent her one. I’m not even sure we can remember the password though.

  13. My two (5 & 3) dont use the computer unless we want to show them something eg pics or a great art activity.

    I personally am strongly against children using facebook. (and I feel 13 is too young for a site that kids can acess with adults)
    I dont accept them as my friends (eg my nieces)
    I have a friend who if she is away has her 7 year old tend to her various fb games. Which I dont agree with.

    I have seen first hand how children (my nieces, again) have just started out on fb for the games and next thing they have over 100 friends????
    I dont even have that many friends

    I just dont feel facebook is a safe place for children

  14. When you’re young, you tend to do silly things. Especially online.
    The most 7-10 year olds should really have is an email address.

  15. I have 5 children ages 10, 9, 7, 5 and 2. My oldest 3 have been on facebook for the last year and half. They love the games! They have several friends that are friends of mine that play the games. They really don’t yet get the concept of face book as a social network. They do however have friends from around the country that they “chat” with on fb as they play the games. I don’t see any harm in facebook. It is a wonderful way to keep in touch with friends. Many of my friend’s children are on facebook as well.

  16. hello my name is chris whats yors

  17. omg

  18. lol my sister is crazy

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