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