Monday, 23 May 2011

Age limits on Facebook? We have bigger issues to address.

Mark Zuckerberg thinks that kids under 13 should be able to have Facebook profiles.

Parents are outraged.

It's too late.

Anybody can sign up for Facebook with a false birthdate and, with or without permission, many teen and pre-teen students are already interacting through social media.  Most are jumping into the online world with little to no education; this is the problem that parents and teachers should be tackling, not ineffective age limits.

I do not believe that young children should be allowed to use the internet unsupervised, but the debate around Facebook should not simply be "Should kids use it?"  Social media is not going anywhere.  We should be asking, "How and when should my kids use it?" and "How am I going to teach my students to use the internet responsibly?"

Demonizing and banning access to Facebook will not make the dangers of online communication disappear.  The social media website is frequently in the news and, as a result, many parents think that the best response is to keep their children from using Facebook until they hit a particular age.  I wonder if these parents are aware that other platforms allow just as much, or more, personal information to be revealed in very public forums.

While their Facebook feeds are often secure for "friends only," many students leave their Twitter feeds public for anybody to see.

Blogging is nothing new; countless different websites allow teens to post lengthy journal entries.  Many reveal too much information about their personal lives for the world to see, even when they think that they are being careful to maintain anonymity.

The popularity of Tumblr is also increasing as students seek to post more lengthy entries than Facebook or Twitter will allow.

Social media isn't the problem; the way students use it is.  We would never let teens drive a car, use a tool, or cook a meal without prior instruction.  Why do we think that turning thirteen (or sixteen or eighteen) entitles students to post content online without any preparation?

It is not acceptable for parents and teachers to say, "I just don't understand the technology" or "The kids are so much better at this than I am."  If adults don't learn to use these programs safely and responsibly, how can we expect students to do so?

Educators and parents must educate themselves, model responsible online interactions, and discuss appropriate use on a regular basis.  "Internet Addiction" and excessive use are concerns; students need to be taught when it is and is not appropriate to use social media.  Parents must recognize the importance of online social connections, but it is fair and reasonable to limit the number of hours that teens spend online.  Educators must be aware of meaningful learning opportunities available online and provide students with the tools they need to access, interpret, analyze, and cite information as they learn.

If students are not aware of appropriate online conduct and security concerns before they begin using social media, we are denying them the knowledge they need to stay safe, maintain positive relationships with peers, and keep their reputations intact.

1 comment:

  1. Keep in mind these kids are also products of Webkins and Penguin World. They have been social Media aware since about 5 years old. There is no denying them Facebook.