Our Family’s Facebook Dilemma

14 02 2011

For about a year and a half, our youngest son has been begging us to allow him to create a Facebook account. Initially, we weren’t thrilled about the idea for a host of reasons, but we didn’t tell him no right away. There were teachable moments that needed to be seized and lessons to be learned about our “digital footprint”. As parents, we were finally able to buy some time with our decision by telling him that “we’ll let you get your own Facebook account when you’re 12” and that seemed to make sense to him.

Well, this past weekend he turned 12, and in the weeks leading up to his big day, he was quick to remind us about the Social Media arrangement we had made with him. One evening last week, Ben wheeled up and asked if together we could create his new account the night before his birthday, since (in his words) the big day would be “far too busy“.  This seemed like a reasonable request to us. He made an interesting statement after that: “And you’re sure that you don’t have to be 13, right?”

This kind of caught us off guard. Why would he ask a question like this? Where did the number 13 come from? We had this all arranged . . . or so we thought.

After he went to bed that night, I went to the Facebook main page and had a look at their Terms and Conditions. Now for those who haven’t encountered this detailed document before, I must say that it’s an enormous amount of legalese that would certainly make a good late-night sedative. In there, I discovered the crucial bit that I was looking for. Right there under Section 4 in the Registration & Security section came point #5: You will not use Facebook if you are under 13. BOOM! (As my friend CW would say).

We were in a bit of a pickle. We had told our son that we would help him create a Facebook account when he turned 12, but at the 11th hour we came across the rule that morally should prevent us from doing so. Ugh. What to do?, What to do?

Now the birthday boy has a number of friends who have been Facebooking for years. I’m sure you can think of many elementary-aged kids who have as well. There was a couple of options available to us at that point:

a) create the account (i.e. ignore the rules and lie)

b) respect the rules and not create the account for the 12-year old (and suffer the effects of a pre-teen’s uber-disappointment)

c) see if there is some legal loop hole that would allow us to proceed (or bend the rules) without actually breaking them.

We decided to pursue the latter and Ben and I crafted an email to the Facebook people, explaining what we were trying to do and letting them know that we wanted to do the right thing. I thought that if we presented our case that the reader might sympathize with our dilemma and understand that this dad was trying to do the right thing with his underage son. We found the contact link, sent the eloquent email and felt good about our decision. We received a reply within 20 minutes and wouldn’t you know it, it was a friendly, but totally impersonal, computer-generated reply. It spoke to none of the issues we raised.

In one sense, I understood completely. How many emails does the Facebook team receive on a daily basis. But in another way, it was ironic that a culture-altering computer program that was created to socialize didn’t have a mechanism for true communication with its users. We were left with a dead end. I thought my little guy would be crushed – and he was, but he has since handled it really well and hasn’t pushed further from that day. I’m really proud of him and the fact that he hasn’t gone down the path of sneakiness and registered on his own speaks to his sense of integrity (and solid parenting?). For now, the issue has been put on hold until his next birthday.

Why would Facebook have such a rule? Has it always been that way or is this a recent move? Did they bow to the wishes of their legal team to prevent a rash of litigation from parents of pre-teens? Or are they taking a proactive step to thwart online predators?

Finally, a note about the wording of their rule – did you catch it? Facebook is not only limiting the age of registered users. You will not use Facebook if you are under 13 speaks to it’s usage by pre-teens as well. As teachers who promote honesty, speak about fairness and model integrity, what is our response to any elementary student with or without an account who uses the tool to communicate with others?

Although I’ve been discouraged to accept students as friends on my Facebook account (and rightly so), I’m sure there are others in my profession out there who encourage students to use Facebook as a way of promoting communication between class members. Although Section 4, #5 seems black and white, are there exceptions to this rule?

My son and I would love to hear from you if there is.


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4 responses

20 02 2011
missbartel

Enjoyed the read Brad! I think you and your son made the right decision in regards to his involvement with facebook… way to take a stand!

Here’s another perspective on Elementary School Facebook users that I think a teacher should consider. Everyone’s doing it… this doesn’t make it right, but it is how it is. As ‘moral/integral’ adults/teachers, we take a stand to not accept our students as facebook friends to make a point that they aren’t supposed to be on in the first place. So now they’re left alone in foreign ‘dangerous’ digital universe with no ‘moral/integral’ people to help guide them through it… just their facebook friends, whoever they might be. I think that possibly, just knowing that your ‘teacher’ or parent is watching everything you do on facebook makes a kid more aware about what they put out there and who they’re in contact with.

Sometimes I think it’s scarier to ignore the fact that they’re all on facebook with no guidance than to delve in and show them the proper/safer way.

23 02 2011
Brad

I appreciate your words and a new perspective Suzanne. Wise words.

It’s been a few weeks now since my guy’s birthday and the funny thing is that he hasn’t even mentioned the “Facebook” word again. I’m quite surprised, actually. I took some advice and had him with me as I check my account & read stuff off my pages. He knows how to navigate around and use Facebook because of this – but he’s totally backed down on the issue. I hope I haven’t scared him away from using incredible tech!

I do like what you said about proper guidance, and I like your notion of using opportunities like these to show and guide students/kids the proper and safe way how to navigate the digital universe. Thanks for taking the time to weigh in!

8 03 2011
ksoltys

Hi Brad, I have a son that will be 13 in August. We have had an ongoing ‘conversation’ in regards to FACEBOOK and we decided that for grade 8 it would be a suitable age. We were not aware of facebooks age requirement ‘fineprint’ but it is good to know for our cause. The thing is he recently asked if he could open an account but but not be active on it. The reason is many of his buddys from his hockey team he wants as friends but as the season is coming to a close he may not ‘see them around.’ I get this. I am considering this and possibly this weekend we will do it. The friend requests will be there in the summer and he can accept them then. I also figure it is a good test of trust and self control.

9 03 2011
bradhagkull

I’m glad you’re having the conversation with your soon-to-be 13 year old K. As parents, these are certainly important ones to have. His reasons are valid and relationships at this age (at any age, really) are so important. I think that’s why the FB Social Media revolution continues to grow at an exponential pace.
I like your comment about the “test of trust and control” as well. It’s like letting out the kite string, isn’t it? The higher the kite, the greater the risk of having it veer off course, but the cooler the tricks you can do! Thanks for weighing in 😉

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