“Don’t worry,” said the young father sitting next to me on the plane with his 2 year old, “I’ve got the iPad.” It completely worked.
Technology has captured the attention of all ages. Nowadays children grow up not just with Dora and Elmo, but iPads and iPods and Kindle Fires. Naturally these technologies become a norm for social engagement, just one reason perhaps why children under 13 are lying about their age to access social network sites. In the New York Times article “Facebook Users Who Are Under Age Raise Concerns,” researches report that parents are promoting their child’s “minor fib.” By doing so, parents have set their child loose in the digital world, leaving them vulnerable to issues like cyber bullying and child pornography. Some researchers argue Facebook is to blame; their lack of resources to protect children are making it easy for a third-grader to tell a little white lie. While others point directly to the parents, who give into their child’s demand and/or simply oversee the issue at hand – there is a reason why Facebook sets the age at 13.
Today the digital divide between parents and children can be harmful. One parent allowed her 11-year-old son to lie about his age to avoid him signing up without her knowing. Another parent wanted his daughter to have “experience using the Internet.” Whatever the reason, letting your young, immature child navigate freely on Facebook isn’t healthy. As more and more children lie, they set a standard for their friends. Just as one boy mentions in boyd and Marwick’s paper, “If you’re not on MySpace, you don’t exist.” A child follows his peer online because it’s the cool thing to do but doesn’t understand the consequences. But the parent should.
What happens if we continue to let the under-13 community sign on Facebook? Will they become masters of boyd and Marwick’s social steganography, furthering the divide from their authority figures? Could their pictures be unknowingly posted on inappropriate sites, as the article shares? As their identities form, will they engage in cyber bullying? For one elementary school teacher, this dilemma could cause a major domino effect. “What happens when they want to drink beer?” she says. This idea plays into the “hypersexualization of youth and extreme risk-taking,” that Mitchell discusses in her study. Like sexting, the conversations and exchanges that occur on Facebook, whether you are a participant or a lurker, can encourage behaviors that aren’t age-appropriate. However also like sexting, we may assume these issues are much bigger than they actually are.
While the article provides an overview of why some parents allow their children to lie and insight into this digital dilemma, there are quite a few holes. First, the “child” in this article needs a voice. Why does he/she want to be on Facebook? How much of their influence comes from parents, siblings, peers and television? Secondly, there is no mention of parents who either try to monitor their children through sites like EyeGuardian, promote safe sites like PixyKids and ScuttlePad and/or simply prohibit online interaction. In a report done by Lori Takeuchi, there is an interesting image diagramming the ecological perspective of human development. The microsystem is composed of the child’s immediate environment. Seeing “digital media spaces” next to “church,” “home” and “school” is a visual representation of its power – something I think we take for granted. Articles like this NTY’s one need to respond from all angles. Instead, it beings to feel like all parents let their children lie, or all children under 13 want to be on Facebook. This diagram also speaks directly to boyd’s discussion of access in her ethnographic study. Depending on the child’s exosystem (larger social structures), there access to media varies. It would be fascinating to further study the participatory vs. access divide that boyd mentions, as it may reveal trends for the future.
While I was reading through articles about young (6-13 years) people and social media, I could feel the hesitancy and fear. How can we safely teach our children to use the technology that they inevitably will use later in life? Is there a right or a wrong way? Should social media be taught in school or at home? How can we cross the line if we don’t know where the line is? Who teaches a child about privacy? Technological affordances have given us an incredible gift that enables us to shape and reshape our world. But it has also provided a platform for danger and inconsistency. Children will continue to fake there way onto Facebook; ‘safer’ social network sites will keep popping up – none of it’s going to stop. But our ability to inform and teach the young generations about balance and integrity is a start. If a positive message can reach one child it can reach his friend…and his friend…and his friend.