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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