Thursday, 29 October 2009

Children on Facebook - why?

It's horrific news no matter where you live, but somehow it seems even worse when it's close to home.

I have been following the story in the press and was surprised to read a comment from someone at Facebook saying that you are supposed to be thirteen or over to be on Facebook. I know a fair few children who are well under that age and have a Facebook page. What I don't understand is *why*.

I suspect there will come a time when my children wish to join sites like Facebook - but I dread it and will delay it as long as I can. Obviously, once children are of the age that this poor girl was they are making their own decisions with less guidance. I am not in any way suggesting that what has happened here is anyones fault. I think it just goes to highlight the dangers of sites like these - you can in extreme circumstances pay for a single mistake with your life.

Anyway, back to the point I was making - why do parents allow young children, (some I have seen are much younger than ten), to have their own Facebook page? Is it to do with the games they can play? I never play games on Facebook so I'm not sure. I have to say it's certainly my preference that my children engage with others in 'real life' - and also that they engage with a wide age range including adults, (parents etc), as opposed to constantly seeking out an age related peer culture.

I'm genuinely interested, what do young children get out of having a Facebook page? Safety issues aside, what's the point? It pains me to be a member of Facebook but I find it hard to resist. It pains me becuase I don't like the thought of someone making mega bucks on the back of social exchanges between friends and like minded people. However, I percieve a benefit so I stay. What benefit are these children having? Is there a benefit?


Schuyler said...

Linnaea's on Facebook. She likes the games, she likes the keeping in touch with friends that she has in the U.S. She likes being able to play tag kinds of games with people she may only see once a year. Some of the people she knows in real life. Some she doesn't.
She plays on WoW with lots of other people she doesn't know as well.

I'm not afraid for Linnaea. She has a good life, she doesn't hide things, she doesn't feel lonely or disconnected. If you see it as a predator-prey relationship, Linnaea isn't weak, she isn't on the edge of the group, easy to be singled out by a hunter. She's not looking for someone else to make her feel better about herself. She doesn't fit any of the stereotypes of a groomable child, an easy to lure into a dark alley child. Rather than being afraid of the on-line communities I trust Linnaea (and Simon) to make good choices and not to shut me out of something they might be nervous about.

This is probably phrasing better and more concisely what I'm stumbling to say.

Claire said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Schuyler. I agree, at Linnaea's age security probably is an overblown issue. I am just genuinely intrigued by what children do on there. H emails her friends and isn't really into computer games - hence I just don't perceive how it is used by young people.

Having said all that, what about the children who are under five and pressumably don't have the reading ability or whatever is required for these games? What are they doing on Facebook?

shepherdlass said...

Hi Claire

Jess is on Facebook since she took part in a film-making course over the summer. All the participants joined at once as they needed a forum to discuss what to do with the films afterwards (enter for competitions, etc).

We've had long conversations about how you communicate on these sites and I trust her to protect personal details and to tell me if anyone asks to be her 'friend' who she doesn't already know and trust in real life. I think (or at least hope!) that awareness is as effective a protection as total avoidance.

Anonymous said...

Z is 13 has recently joined facebook, I'm on her list of friends and so are other mums that she and I know, her friends are all people that she knows from when she was at school or through home ed. She likes some of the games, and uses it to keep in contact with friends. She does'nt add anyone without asking. I think there is a place for online socialising as long as it does'nt become the only form of socialising - on my side bar there is an article about teens and facebook.

Schuyler said...

I have a dog on facebook and a cat (Linnaea bought my cat). There are pass around a flower games and how green is your garden games. My guess is that a child who isn't reading isn't on facebook that much. I'd point a young child toward Neopets long before facebook. Much better games there.

The thing about being afraid of the internet, afraid of someone stealing your child away and thus cutting off this amazing resource, is that they will get there someday on their own. And if they are getting there without your comfort and approval, they will hide from you what could range from amazing and positive experiences to potentially scary and dark ones.

Claire said...

I don't limit my children's use of the internet in case someone steals them away. I don't limit their use of the internet at all - they just quite simply aren't interested. To go on the internet they would have to stop climbing trees, chasing chooks, making fires in the garden, writting stories, playing with lego etc :-)

I know a lot of people won't blog about family life etc for security reasons. I do. I like to think I keep internet risks in persceptive. As I said, I was more interested in the *why* as opposed to the merrits of security concerns.

Save for my blogging habit I think we live a very low tech life here :-)

Mam said...

I feel very nervous too about my children ever being on facebook, despite the fact that I too blog about them. I suppose its because you hear such awful stories about them getting to know people whoa re out to get them...

So far they're not all that interested though. They are on Club Penguin but I've set it to super safe chat, with pre written phrases they ahve to choose from! Oh poor kids, none of their friends have a mother like me! They're not all that bothered though.

hazel xx

Claire said...

*Oh poor kids, none of their friends have a mother like me!*

Now now, we know that's not true - says the mother who has spent the whole day carving pumpkins, reading stories out loud, making hot chocolate and having lots of kiddie cuddles while all watching 101 Dalmations. I've not even heard of Club Penguin :-) You must tell me more when I see you. Have a good one tomorrow night. x

Schuyler said...

I wasn't actually suggesting that you are protecting your children from being stolen away because of some predator finding them through the internet. I was thinking more of the young woman who was found in Sedgefield. You wrote that you can pay for a single mistake with your life on a site like facebook. My guess is that it wasn't a single mistake, it was loneliness that made her hope for a 16 year old boyfriend and put any kind of fear out of her mind. Desperation can make you hope and take risks to achieve the comfort that you so very much want.

Claire said...

*Desperation can make you hope and take risks to achieve the comfort that you so very much want.*

I totally agree with you Schuyler and this is an area in which I can formulate opinions based upon extensive experience.

Events in my own personal life lead me to choose a career in which I was directly involved with both the perpetrators and victims of violent crime - crime which by it's very nature targetted the lonely, the vulnerable and more than any those lacking in confidence and self esteem.

Much of my work within the legal profession concentrated on this field and the whole of my work with various women's organisations was of this nature.

People are undoubtedly much more at risk of finding themsleves in a dangerous situation such as this if they lack self esteem. If they continue to place themselves in dangerous positions in order to try to find what they feel is lacking in thier lives then they are obviously at greater risk - but of course this can happen on the first time one takes such a chance.

In my original post I really was just expressing sorrow at what had happened and genuinely enquiring as to what very young people do on Facebook. Having said that I do believe very strongly that the best way I can keep my children safe is to develop in them a strong sense of self worth and also to build a very strong relationship with them so that they know they can always approach me and discuss anything with me.

To my mind, (and we are all entitled to our own views), the best way that we as a family can build strong bonds, (and other families may well feel differently), is to spend time together, focusing upon each other, common interests, community interests etc. That is not to say that we don't go on the computer, occassionally play computer games etc, it's just that is a very small part of our life.

Essentially I think we are in agreement here. Feelings of loneliness, desperation etc are the main contributors to this kind of crime - not social networking sites in themselves. How we raise children with strong self esteem is a wholly different matter and I suspect there are as many different answers as there are families.