I was involved in an online discussion regarding giving children and young teens access to the social networking application Facebook. My stance is a firm NO and I am outnumbered by parent educators who believe differently. Their position is to allow a child to have Facebook with some safeguards, if the parent believes that the child is emotionally or cognitively ready to use it responsibly, or if the child shows curiosity and a desire to use it. They also feel that social media tools are here to stay for adults and children should be included and trained to use them safely.
Adult caregivers are at different "points on the continuum of successful parenting" and that everyone has the potential to reach the higher levels. I think that the parent educators involved in this online discussion are high on that continuum and few need any parenting help. But the majority of the parents I work with that do need help are on the low end of the continuum, due to economic, social, or personal issues. Many are sent to me by DCF or their therapist. Many live unbalanced lives or suffer from disorders. It has been my experience that these parents are usually incapable of setting up (and keeping in place) monitoring and having joint experiences with their children on the Internet.
The point I'm trying to make is this. If the parent educators in this discussion group are at the high end of the parenting continuum and they choose the belief (different from mine) that they themselves should allow their children to have a Facebook page when they express an interest in it, and to educate their children, discuss it with them, and get engaged in it with their child, then good for them. Because of their position on the continuum, their child will most likely remain safe, become Facebook savvy, and have a good social experience on Facebook. And like others have said in this discussion, they will be more experienced and have their wits about them when they become 16 and 17. Therefore, this makes the choice these parents made, a good choice for them alone. It should not however, be good advice for adult caregivers who are on the low end of the continuum. These parents are less likely (as I said earlier) to have a good relationship with their child, or less likely to have the time and energy (let alone knowledge) to implement safeguards and monitoring measures in place. Because, even if they do, they are less likely to keep up with them due to their unbalanced lives. The result could be the kids being left unattended to do as they please.
But this isn’t just about parents on the low end. Even some who are on the higher end of the continuum implement it, but then can’t keep it in place. One of my clients was an upper middle class mom who had it all going for her. She only disagreed with me on the “access to the Internet” issue and decided to give her two daughters semi-supervised and monitored access to various Internet tools (MySpace and Email) and everything seemed fine. Then her life became unbalance when her husband left her suddenly. The destruction of her marriage and the turbulent divorce consumed her. She was unable to keep up with the joint Internet time she had set up with her daughters and before too long, she gave them full, unsupervised access to alleviate the stress she was experiencing. This is where I say that the parent is burdened (as they should be) with having to keep monitoring and supervising all access to the Internet and related tools. Negative life changes for the parent could cause them to fall a few notches on the parenting continuum.
I am not attempting to villanize Facebook. I use it to maintain my social connections and I know the value of it. When my 13-year-old moves closer to the age of 16, I will take the measures to discuss the safety of Facebook and work with her to have a safe and reasonable online experience. I don’t believe that children and young teens should have Facebook because of two primary concerns; safety and the fact that the addiction of wanting to be on Facebook often will rob them of time better spent for self-discovery and exploration of their inner gifts and talents.