Facing Up To Facebook

All too often, stories about kids on Facebook tend toward the gloomy and the disapproving. And that’s all well and good when, for example, we hear stories about a single 6th Grader being harassed by 57 classmates via the social network. So, that’s 58 kids interacting on a platform they’re not allowed to sign up for. Hmmmm. Moving on…

A recent article on Salon was similarly dismissive of the presence of children on Facebook, with the author vowing not to let their under-13 children register and certainly not to friend other parents’ children. We may agree or disagree with the mother who wrote this article, but given some of the potential abuses of children on Facebook, even for those 13 and up, her zero tolerance approach is at least understandable (if not altogether realistic).

Add to this the recent research suggesting the genuine emotional damage that can result from being “unfriended” (as the study from Chapman University in California puts it: “We consider Facebook unfriending as a form of relationship termination with negative emotional and cognitive consequences”), it would all seem to point to some serious problems surrounding the largest social network on the planet.

But with Facebook just now hitting one billion users, is there any other positive news for the site from an ethical or safety perspective? Well, yes, sort of.

This article outlines an interesting development in which parents are beginning to use Facebook itself as a tool for raising their kids. Initially befuddled by the near-overnight explosion of Facebook, YouTube, text messaging and online gaming, parents have woken up to the potential power (both positive and negative) of these aspects of their children’s lives. They are asking questions about the emotional, cognitive, and social impact of these technologies, and consequently beginning to steer a middle ground between outright rejection and full immersion, resulting in a dialogue between themselves and their kids that takes into account both the challenges and opportunities. In other words, with the help of their children, once skeptical or even clueless parents are now growing into the digital world.

Without the space to further elaborate, we would strongly recommend reading the article that last link takes you to, and will quote from it:

“Groups like Common Sense offer an alternative to total immersion or a complete ban, both of which haven’t proven effective strategies in equipping children with the necessary tools for their future. These advocacy groups stand between your children and the media, offering some insight and information to inform parents so they can make the choices that matter to them.”

And, from the same article, parents helping their children are themselves getting a helping hand:

“This summer, Microsoft and Scholastic sponsored the inaugural Digital Family Summit to bring together over 200 creative teens and tweens from around the country along with their families. The three-day conference helped teens develop skills through hands-on workshops and interactive sessions, learn how they can take their creative endeavors to a more professional level, and explore the impact that kids are having on the broader digital culture.”

Watch this space for more on this.