Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why I won't let my 12 year old on Facebook...

We've been having a lot of debates in this household recently stemming from my eldest's participation on a Minecraft server which is hosted by one of his friends - and now his father and I have just about had enough.

Six months ago none of my children had any kind of technology. Then I bought them iPods amongst other things, so they could have something in common with their peers.

It really is unavoidable - the technological creep.

I've long been part of many circles of parents who resist 'plugging the child into technology' for various reasons, and I've sympathised with their views. As a Communications student many years ago I read a lot of research that suggested technologies stimulate the mind while pacifying the body, resulting in overstimulated adrenal systems. I've read recent research which suggests that exposure to violent video games physically changes neural pathways resulting in an inability to focus in other environments. Of course, none of this research is conclusive (very little research of any kind is conclusive, in any field).

So, I hadn't plugged my children in for those reasons.

Earlier last year I created Facebook accounts in the names of each of my children - including the, then, two year old. I did this for my own Facebook gaming purposes. I have since lived to regret this decision in some ways, but the accounts remain as I vacillate over whether or not to acquiesce to the pressure of my 12 and 10 year olds to be allowed to use their accounts because all their friends are beginning to have active accounts on Facebook.

As of this morning, though, the decision is still to hold off on that particular initation and it is all comes down to having observed my eldest's interactions via email with his friends on a friend's Minecraft server.

You see, my son has an email account he has access too, but all his emails are forwarded to my inbox as well so that I can observe the interactions. I do this mainly because my son's social skills are still in the making and I want to see how they develop as he encounters new situations. I feel this is my responsibility as his parent - apprenticing him for adulthood. He knows I see his emails and this is part of the conditions under which he has an email account in the first place.

Sadly, over the past couple of months of him being on his friend's Minecraft server, I have only read a handful of emails that weren't in some way aggressive; both on his part and on the part of the other children on the server.

We had thought participating in this server would be an exercise in camaraderie, whereby the boys would all work together to build a world in Minecraft. Instead it seems to have been one big 'grief-fest'. My son has not been innocent in all of this. I observed as he participated in blowing up the other players houses and stealing their tools and materials. I've warned him this kind of behaviour might seem fun at first but would eventually lead to hard feelings. He didn't take on my advice and learned 'the hard way' when his friends no longer trusted him and refused to help him when he got caught in a glitch in the program and was effectively 'jailed' in a no-mans land.

The thing is, he had actually apologised and changed his way some time earlier, but a grudge was held - understandably.

I stepped in (I know, I know, many of you will say that was the wrong thing to do, but I do believe in second chances and my son has only just found a group of friends after many social difficulties). I went into bat for him with the boys and he was saved from his glitch prison.


However, it hasn't only been my son 'griefing the server' as they call it, the others have also attacked him and one another. In fact, every email seems to be full of, 'Who bombed my house?' and 'Who stole my stuff?' and 'I'm going to ban whoever it was' as well as it a lot of 'It wasn't me!' and 'It couldn't have been him because...'

I have not witnessed much in the way of camaraderie, I have to say.  All this lack of non-verbal cues seems to be causing these children to be antagonistic and defensive all at once. As I said, my child is not innocent in this matter. I just don't think he's learning any positive social skills through this exercise.

So, now there is the added pressure of Facebook. All the other boys have active Facebook accounts now, except my child, and he is pushing to 'join them'.

The thing with Facebook is, while I can and do have access to his page and messages, monitoring the interactions would be ten times more complicated due to the various modes of communication including chat (which I now believe can be monitored through private messages, where it couldn't be before), but quite frankly, if all the interactions via email are negative - how is Facebook going to be any better?

If anything it will be worse.

Already - with an inactive account - my child has several friends requests from children who are friends or relatives of his friends. Children who are not part of our school community. Children I will never meet - children he will probably never meet. If he is has negative interactions with his friends via Minecraft or email, only his friends see those interactions. On Facebook, everyone he is linked to - including people he has never met and only know him through his reputation on Facebook - will see.

Is he ready to deal with those situations? I don't think he is.

Moreover, what if he participates in the slamming of someone else? Are they ready to deal with that? Does he understand how he can negatively impact on other people via the internet? I really don't think he does.

When so many adults fail to connect with the concept of another human being on the receiving end of cyber debates, how can a socially innocent 12 year old manage it?

Okay, so the argument might be that he has to learn some time. He's never going to learn without experiencing it, right?  But surely, if he doesn't experience it for another year or so, he'll be that much more mature just from other life experiences, right?

As of right now, my decision is to wait. I may change my mind tomorrow, or next week, or next month. For that to happen, I think I would first have to see more positive interactions via email. I'd need to see that the internet is not only a vehicle for aggression in his peer group, but all for support and cohesion, respect and friendship - at least in equal measure with the negativity, but preferably outweighing it considerably. I'd need to see more maturity from all the children, including my child.

...even if it may hurt me...


Unknown said...

What a well timed post! I received a friend request from my 11 year old niece tonight and my immediate response was 'ignore'. Whilst I don't post anything particularly lewd or crude, I share jokes and images and sometimes videos that are just way beyond an 11 year old's head.

If I share something that is funny to me as an adult, forgetting she follows me, will her Mum then be having to explain it and the context? Too risky.

I am an auntie when I see her, with sensible, well-mannered, well-meaning talk about mostly childish things. On Facebook I'm a grown up with grown up friends having grown up conversations.

And never the twain shall meet!

Good luck!

EssentiallyJess said...

Great post Sif, and I love Donna's comment as well. I had never thought of that!

My eldest is 8 and some of her friends are on Facebook, but I won't be letting her on for ages. I just think that it is completely unnenecessary at her age. I'll revisit it when she is much older!

I like how you havent just made a blanket decision, but rather have made it based on email interactions. This gives you a great platform to discuss the situation with your son, and he can then accept it without just accusing you of being mean and unfair.
Good on you Sif!
And good luck! :)

Rhianna said...

I am with you on this one Sif. Two of my girls have facebook with fake names. They were started by me namely for gaming reasons. The hey have me and my husband and each other as friends. And my sister (mainly for game reasons as well) My eldest who turns 11 in a few months is constantly asking for fb in her own names and add her own friends but I just don't like the idea. I don't even like the idea of her having her own email account, though that is a great idea about the forwarding of mail.

Sarah said...

A really interesting debate Sif - something I can identify with.

Both of my children (12 and 13) DO have FB accounts and I am on thier frinds lists.

It has become an issue lately as my son has posted some inaapropriate 'jokes' taking the lead from his father (who I am seperated from).

I find them offensive and have insisted he remove them. I have now been labled as a kill joy.

The truth is that, as you say, this media is open to all and everyone to read.

I don't want my son lablled as racist or sexist or to be percieved as having any other kind of predudice which I know in real life he doesn't possess.

To him, these jokes are 'just jokes' - he is emulating his Dad and see's no harm.

This morning he also recieved the following posted to his wall by someone that I had always thought of as a responsible adult:

'Join my cause: Mandatory Life Sentences for Pedophiles & Child Molesters, Death for Child Killers.'

This totally goes against everything I believe in and have taught my children and I have written to the person in question pointing this out. No doubt there will be a backlash from at some point.

It is our right and responsibility as parents to make choices for our children to protect them and to educate them. To give them values.

If you don't think your children are ready for this then I am sure you are right. Mine may well have this option taken away from them until I feel they are better equipt to deal with it.

Sif Dal said...

Thanks for all the feedback, guys! I attempted to post a response yesterday but it got lost somehow - which is going to make the next thing I say sound funny...

I always try to stay abreast of the technological activities my children participate in. If they use email, I learn all I can about it and about how I can use it to monitor (at a distance unless I see true distress) their activity. The same goes with Facebook, Minecraft, the Wii and any other technologies.

One day I suspect there will be stuff they know that I can't grasp but I'm hoping by then they will also be savvy enough to mediate their own experiences.

For the purpose of this post, I was only talking about what I had observed with my child and his peer group. All children are different and will have different experiences, of course.

Donna and Sarah, you both bring up a very important point - you cannot control what adults will allow your child access too (Donna it is great that as an adult you have already consider how your content might impact on your niece! If all adults were as conscientious it would make things a lot easier for parents). If you want to be completely safe in cyberspace, you best option is not to be in cyberspace. At the same time society itself is more and more in cyberspace and I feel it is my responsibility to apprentice my children in the ways of our society.

It's such a razor's edge to walk - and one our parents never walked, so we can ask them for advice like we can about other issues facing us as parents.

Jess, I learned the hard way about making blanket decision, LOL. I usually only make blanket decision when I'm afraid of whatever it is I'm against and I'm usually only afraid of whatever it is because I don't have any first hand experience and am working from a place of guessing... I try to keep an open mind - that can be scary sometimes...

Kestrel said...

Applauding here. Thank you so much. Will be posting and sharing (more than likely on facebook **rolls eyes**). Really impressed. Found you through one of my own blog followers and am following you now.

Sif Dal said...

Hi Kestrel, thank you for your enthusiastic comment! I feel like I know your user name from somewhere. I went to your blog and have followed you. We used to be a school free family until my eldest was 7.5 and asked to go to school (being committed to taking our children's lead in their education experiences we acquiesced. I'm still waiting for one of them to ask to leave formal schooling - they like I, I'm still not a fan of the system).

Hope you enjoy this blog :).

Good Job!