It's the most popular social network in the world, and both kids and adults feel the pull towards signing up for their own profile. According to a 2011 Pew Internet Report, 80% of teenagers use social media—and within that group, 93% have a Facebook account. Technically, kids under 13 can't even use Facebook under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, but a 2011 Consumer Report study shows that nearly eight million children have accounts—and those are just the ones who have told their parents about it.
Parents who feel overwhelmed by the ever-changing role of social media aren't alone. Whether you want to ban it from your child or are ready to sign up yourself, here are some points to consider.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Your young child may beg you for internet access and a Facebook account, but that might require you to compromise your ethics. Dr. Gwen O'Keeffe, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, notes that setting up an account for a child under 13 means that the child or adult must lie about age, "which is one of the cardinal rules we tell kids not to ever break when they're online."
A Million Distractions
Just because your teen is busy typing away doesn't mean she's working hard on her homework. Facebook is a tempting diversion for anyone, and can drastically affect her performance in school. Dr. Larry Rosen, professor and author of Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn, found that Facebook is one of the most popular distractions for teenagers.
Facebook isn't all bad, though. In fact, it can help teens develop relationship skills by gaining a better understanding of other people's feelings. When kids see others sharing their personal feelings online, it's easier for them to empathize and identify with their experiences, and comment with support, says Rosen.
Keeping in Touch
Many adults keep up meaningful relationships on Facebook, and kids can do the same with their families and friends. Chatting and sharing photos and videos of events like performances, trips and graduations helps kids stay connected to her loved ones, far and wide.
One thing is for sure, social media is here to stay. If you're ready to jump on board, here are some ways to help your child translate these online skills to the real world.
Point to Positives
Shy kids often fear the worst, believing that others will make fun of their profiles or leave mean comments. Rosen suggests paying attention to your child's account and pointing out the positive comments and reactions it gets. Social media can be a great way to gain self-awareness and confidence because it isn't a face-to-face interaction. Once she's comfortable talking through Facebook, she'll come around to real life interactions.
Another lesson children can take away from internet socialization is not reacting instantly to posts. By thinking through their posts beforehand, children can carefully consider whether or not their comment is productive or harmful, suggests Dr. Rosen. Internet conversations live forever, so observing a grace period before writing anything online is a good idea.
Facebook can be distracting in a lot of ways, both emotionally when you're wondering who's commenting on your profile, and externally as alerts and updates bombard your phone or computer. Rosen suggests turning off the program when it's time to work, and scheduling short "tech breaks" for your child to blow off some steam and check her profile.
Lead by Example
Better yet, offer the "tech break" compromise for the whole family, so everyone has a chance to put down their computers and phones and enjoy each others' company. While your child does homework, curl up with a good book or have a chat with your spouse to show your child that there are many other ways to spend time outside of the internet. Your teen will be able to see the actual benefits of less screen time without feeling like you're just trying to control her.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the ever-shifting Facebook phenomenon, but keep in mind that a lot of things, including communication, understanding and spending quality time together, are still essential to raising healthy kids. Social media won't be disappearing anything soon, so the best time to talk to your child might be right now.