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Facebook Wants Your Child, But Is It Safe?

Facebook would like children under age13 using the social networking site. 7.5M young kids are already on FB. Parents need to consider he risks/benefits before they allow their child on Facebook.

The buzz around Facebook a couple of months ago was about its pending IPO. Then the buzz changed to disappointment when the IPO didn’t meet expectations.

Today, the buzz about Facebook is its desire to allow children access to Facebook despite privacy concerns. To make this happen, Facebook is apparently looking into different safety options for younger users.

Unfortunately, in the wake of its disappointing IPO results, this seems an obvious ploy to garner an added revenue stream, namely your children. Facebook has been spending lobbying dollars in Washington, D.C., to change the C.O.P.P.A (Child Online Privacy Protection Act) which restricts websites from collecting data on children for some time now.

Survey:  Should children under 13 years old be allowed on Facebook? To Answer Click Here

Does Facebook Care About Your Child’s Safety?

If Facebook cared about kids’ online safety then by default the Facebook settings would be set to private, not public. Facebook is well aware that many children younger than the age of 13 are already using the social networking site. A consumer report study says that 7.5 million kids are using Facebook younger than the age of 13. Many kids lie about their age to access Facebook. And unfortunately age verification does not work according to Hemanshu Nigam, an internet security expert: “Companies do age verification because they know they’re supposed to, but everybody knows it doesn’t really work.” This is true for all websites, not just Facebook.

What Are the Risks/Benefits of Kids On Facebook?

As parents we need to stop and think hard about what it means when kids go on Facebook. What are the benefits to them? What are the risks? How might Facebook affect their futures?

Facebook started out as a college platform and now is a ubiquitous part of our culture and environment. It is a great way to connect with family and friends. Many teachers communicate with their students on Facebook and post assignments. But Facebook also carries enormous risk especially to younger kids and tweens. Kids are naturally curious, impulsive, lack good judgment and decision making skills because the executive function part of the brain that helps with decision making is not fully developed until an adult reaches 25. It’s difficult for kids to think beyond today to their futures because they tend to be impulsive and take risks. After all they are kids and not miniature adults. As parents we need to guide our children throughout their teen years.

Many tweens openly admit to engaging in risky online behavior. In addition, 26 percent of children said they ignored their parents’ warnings on Internet safety.

Why expose our kids to unnecessary and potentially harmful risks?

Facebook is Not Private

Anything posted online, whether it’s an image or a comment, stays in cyberspace forever. A Facebook post is only as good as a friendship. A friend today may be gone tomorrow. What happens with that post or image then? That “no-longer” friend may disseminate it to others. Images can be photoshopped and then sent to others.

Friending

Many kids think of friends lists as a badge of popularity and don’t always know in real life who these friends are. “70 percent of kids will accept “friend” requests regardless of whether they know the requester,” says Special Agent Wesley Tagtmeyer of  the FBI. Also, who will they be connecting with online. Do you want your young child chatting with older teens online? You wouldn’t allow them to go to a party with older teens, so why would you want them on Facebook with older kids?

Parent Friending Not Enough

Many parents think friending their kids is enough to keep them safe and make sure they are behaving appropriately on Facebook. However, many kids are creating two Facebook profiles, one for their friends and one for their parents.

Online Predators

According to the FBI there are 500,000 predators working hard to engage kids online. Facebook is one of the venues where predators try to “friend” children and establish a relationship. This happened recently to girl in Texas. A teacher had confiscated the 12-year-old girl's cell phone and noticed inappropriate texts with a male who indicated that he would pick this girl up after school. This man was arrested. He met this girl on Facebook and her mom did not know she had a phone. He had sent it to her.

Online predators often pose as teenagers, so kids may think they’re chatting with a 16-year-old but they could be chatting with a much older person.

Kids may inadvertently post identifying information that may make them easy targets for online predators. Sixty-nine percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have updated their status on social networking sites to include their physical location. Fifty-two percent of teens have given out personal information online to someone they don’t know offline.

Kids are indiscriminate about what they post

In a study of 4,400 parents, 21 percent of these parents found abusive or sexually explicit messages on their teen’s Facebook profile. According to Common Sense Media, 39 percent have posted something they later regretted.

Facebook Can Affect Your Child’s Future

Whenever a child posts anything on Facebook, whether it’s an image or a comment, it can affect their futures. Why? Because every time a child posts something online, they are creating their own personal brand online and permanent digital footprint that stays in cyberspace forever. They need to think, “Is this post or image really representing who I am? Would I be embarrassed if a teacher or my grandma saw it?”

A young child may not understand the full implications of their actions and the effect their indiscretions may have on their futures. Many colleges, scholarship providers, and coaches are now looking at Facebook prior to admission, or acceptance. There are companies that help check on students and athletes such as UDilligence and Varsity Monitor that offer a “reputation scoreboard.” An indiscretion from a young “unthinking” child, tween or teen may lead to long term regret.

Kids Are Losing Ability to Communicate Face to Face

Some psychologists say that kids are losing the ability to talk face to face because when they talk online there is a computer screen standing between the conversation obstructing the view of the sender and recipient. As a result kids are unable to learn from behavior and facial cues about the affects of what they are sending in a comment, or image. The screen doesn’t tell them or show them when something hurts or may be offensive. It may be easier to talk behind a screen than Face to Face. James Steyer of Common Sense Media says, “Some kids would rather 'Facebook' someone or send a text than talk, even if they’re in the same room.” What does that do for child’s ability to interact in a meaningful way, develop conversational skills or develop empathy?

Psychological-Cognitive Effects

Some believe that Facebook is impacting children’s brain development. “Facebook has had a huge impact on the social, emotional and cognitive development of young people,” says Steyer of Common Sense Media. “The average child spends more time today with media than they do in school or with their family.”

In addition, Larry Rosen, a psychologist, has found that “teens who use Facebook more often show narcissistic tendencies while young adults who have a strong Facebook presence show more signs of other psychological disorders, including antisocial behaviors, mania and aggressive tendencies."

Facebook Addiction/Time Waster

Kids that go on Facebook often end up spending hours looking at other kids comments and pictures and posting their own comments and pictures. Social networking has an addictive component and may be difficult to "turn off," especially for kids. This is partly because of the chemical release of dopamine in our brains that makes us feel better when we are social networking. “An overabundance of dopamine — while it feels great, just as sugar does — creates a mental hyperactivity that reduces the capacity for deeper focus,” says David Rock of the Neuroleadership Institute. Many tweens (22 percent) check Facebook more than 10 times each day according to CommonSense Media. Facebook can become a huge time sink. A recent study at the University of Norway says that Facebook addiction is more likely to occur among younger users and can have a real impact on their lives.Wouldn’t it be better for children to use their time for healthier, more productive activities?

Effect on Learning

When kids are supposed to be focusing on homework, they may want to go on Facebook at the same time. This can become a huge distraction  and can negatively impact learning. “Studies have found that middle school, high school and college students who checked Facebook at least once during a 15-minute study period achieved lower grades,” according to psychologist Larry Rosen. Social Networking is more fun than working hard on a social studies paper or a difficult math problem. We need to teach our kids the art of focusing on difficult work and not entertaining themselves on Facebook.

Facebook Depression

Many kids compare themselves to their friends social networking profiles and may feel that they are not as popular, pretty, or cool. This can lead to Facebook depression with feelings of loneliness. “Girls are especially vulnerable," says Steyer of Common Sense Media said, with studies indicating that many body-conscious teens are photoshopping images of themselves so as to look thinner and score more “'likes' among their friends.”

Another Facebook game that may lead kids to feel bad about themselves is “Smash or Pass” a game where boys and girls submit photos of themselves and ask their “friends” whether they would like to “smash” (have sex with) or “pass” (turn down) the person pictured.

Cyberbullying

Many kids have witnessed cyberbullying or harassment on Facebook. According to Pew research 88 percent of teens had seen some cruelty or meanness on Facebook.

Facebook 'Hate' Pages

A dark side of Facebook is also seen in hate pages, such as the one created about a boy that was gay from Iowa. This hate page spewed hate about gays and invited his friends to join. This boy, Kenneth W., committed suicide. “SouthRiver Insults,” another Facebook hate page, was taken down by Facebook after pressure from parents. When one Facebook hate page is taken down, another rears its ugly head.

Facebook groups

Would you want your child exposed to some of the Facebook groups associated with binge drinking, smoking cigarettes, or smoking weed. They exist as do many more that are not appropriate for children.

Exercise/Obesity

Eight- to 18-year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). We wonder why there is an epidemic of obesity among children? Kids should be outside playing, not on the computer and not on Facebook. A Kaiser Family Foundation study concluded that obesity is linked to the amount of time children spend watching television and videos, using the Internet and playing computer and video games.

Sexting

Sexting has become a growing problem among teens with about 20 percent of teens sending nude or seminude photos of themselves or sexually explicit messages to others. Many of these teens are aware of the potential for serious consequences, both legal and emotional of their behavior. Children do not need to be exposed to this type of behavior.

Identity Theft

When kids are not extremely careful about the information they are posting, they can become victims of identity theft. Cybercriminals may take advantage of their naivety and look for identifying information that they post. Phishing scams attempting to steal your information may also be a problem for children such as the scam “hey, do you remember this photo?" The goal of cybercriminals is to trick you into clicking on an infectious attachment or visit a malicious website so that they can get sensitive information such as passwords. Adults have trouble protecting themselves from these phishing scams, so how would children be able to stay out of harms way?

Profanity

You may not be surprised to learn that 47 percent of users have profanity on their Facebook wall. Of those users, 80 percent have at least one post or comment with a profanity from a friend. The "F" word is used most often.

What Should You Do?

There are many risks associated with a child going on Facebook. The required age of 13 may be too young for kids to be on Facebook, let alone children younger than the age of 13, with or without online safety tools. Kids need to be kids, playing outside, and playing with friends without a screen in between. Let’s really think about the value of Facebook versus the risks. I think we will all find that there is very little upside and potentially much more harm from kids going on the social networking site at a young age. Let’s keep our young children off Facebook.

Check In Periodically On Your Older Children on Facebook

For the kids that are complying with the age restriction of 13 before going on Facebook, parents should be communicating often with them about the risks and issues. Go over safety rules and check in live on your child’s online activity to make sure that your kids are complying with your family rules. Trust but verify!  We as parents all need to PROTECT, PREVENT, and PARENT online!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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