My six-year-old B just got a Facebook account. Her older sister N has had hers for over a year now. Yes, according to Facebook rules they are too young, and so we had to fabricate birthdays for the two of them so that the accounts could be created, but we are bad parents that way.
Our rule had been that they had to be able to read a chapter book on their own before they could get their accounts. On Thursday night, B read the last chapter of Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook to us. As she closed the book, her sweet little face pleaded to me, “Now can I get Facebook Mama?” I told her that Tony and I would talk about it, and that we were very proud of her reading skills. Of course, our answer had to be yes. She had done the work and met her part of the bargain. On Friday night after dinner, we helped her set up her account.
Her privacy settings are strict. She is not allowed to make or accept a friend request without asking us first. I have no doubt in my mind that both my girls will follow this rule. They are rule followers by nature. I have never once caught them trying to get away with so much as taking a cookie without asking, particularly B who asks permission before she moves a toy to another floor in the house, even though we have never tried to instill this in her. It is both of their natures to ask before doing.
Our other rule is that we don’t help them with spelling or with what to write on Facebook. What comes from them, is them. For N, it helped her be a bit more willing to put herself out there and make mistakes. Her cautious nature was pushed a little out of her comfort zone. This is the girl who, when learning to talk, wouldn’t say a word until she could say it perfectly. She was a slightly later, but meticulous talker. Except for the time she asked for more “chork pops” at dinner, and although Tony and I were dying laughing inside, we could not show it or she would have cried.
There are a few reasons why we are allowing Facebook to start so early in our house. Firstly is because it helps their reading and writing skills. Secondly is because we have a lot of close family members who live far away, and Facebook is an excellent way to keep these relationships closer. And one of the bigger reasons why we are letting them do this now is that social media is a part of life now. It is here to stay, and I would rather they learn to manage these interactions when they are young and willing to let us be involved, than when they are a bit older, and may get into things that we might not be aware of. In my mind it is a bit like learning to drink at home with your family, than drinking for the first time out of the house at an out of control high school party. For me, I never once got into trouble because of drinking; I was always able to make my own way home. I was always responsible. Others I know who were not allowed to drink at home had to have their parents called because they were passing out on the street.
Oversight is key to this working, because children understand technology and they learn fast. The other evening, N&B were downstairs, each playing on their own hand-me-down laptops; Tony and I were upstairs tidying up. Tony suddenly turned to me and said “I think N is talking to (uncle) Paul on Skype.” Sure enough, we went down, and the two were chatting with video and all. Honestly, I don’t even know how to do that.
As long as we know what they’re doing though, I think this is a positive thing for them to be learning now.
But lookout Facebook, I’m not sure you are ready for B.