Q: How old does your panel think a child should be to have a Facebook
page? My 11-year-old son is asking for an account because some of his friends
have one, but I'm not sure.
A: Facebook clearly states in its rules that you have to be age 13 to create an account, the Help for Families panel says.
However, the site does not police this rule, and all a child needs to do to create an account is to have a valid email address and fill in a fake birth date. Many children under age 13 have accounts and there are Facebook accounts registered to pets.
Panelist Bill Vogler feels very strongly that letting a child this age have a Facebook account is a big mistake. He notes that if you let an underage child create an account, first you are condoning lying.
"I won't even lie about a child's age at a movie," Vogler says. "I don't want to send a message white lies are OK."
He also feels Facebook can be harmful for children.
"Facebook is a huge problem for many kids," he says. "It is a minefield for bullying and inappropriate communication among kids. If you do decide to do it, there is a huge responsibility for parents to monitor it."
One of the risks of forbidding a child to have a Facebook account is that they might create one behind your back and then you will have no control over it, the panel says.
"You need to know your own child's maturity level," Freedman says. "Not everyone is at the same place. It may not be appropriate even for children who are old enough."
Never give any child free rein on Facebook controls, says Denise Continenza. You need to educate yourself on Facebook.
"Kids are so sophisticated," Continenza says. "Let him do it within limits. Use it an educational lesson. Have a long discussion with him."
Keep talking to him about values, Freedman agrees.
"Access will be there, so there needs to be a parental role," she says. "There are sexual predators on Facebook. You need to teach kids how to use Facebook like you taught them to cross the street by holding their hand."
Make sure you have access to his page and approve all friend requests, says panelist Pam Wallace.
She adds that parents also must be aware the way young people communicate is changing.
"They text or Facebook each other," she says. "That's the way culture is going."
Children who are not plugged in miss out on another level of communication among their peers, agrees Freedman.
Wallace also suggest you do a family page in your name to which your son can contribute and which you monitor.
"Be aware if you go this route, it is very easy to lose control even when you're being careful," Vogler says.
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