Back when my oldest son was 11 he asked if he could go onto Facebook because some of his friends were and they played these cool games. We knew he was going to ask sooner or later but we didn’t expect it to be the sooner and so we put him off for awhile saying that we had to do some research.
Well, research we did and we came up with a few answers thanks to friends and reading and basic dirt digging. (I am not above dirt-digging. We do it for the president, I will do it for my children’s friends!)
What I learned was:
a) When you sign up with facebook and agree to their legal jargon you are, in fact, stating that you are 13 years old.
b) Said friends who were playing, ‘cool game’ on facebook had also introduced another of my son’s classmates to porn.
c) 20% of children age 10-17 have been solicited sexually online. That’s 1 in 5, people!
d) 9 out of 10 parents will never know that an inappropriate contact has been made.
e) From 2007-2009 MySpace (remember them?) deleted 90,000 accounts because they belonged to registered sex offenders.
So we said, “No.” Plain and Simple.
All we really needed was point A. You click a button saying that you are 13. You are 11. We will not permit you to blatantly lie just so you can play a game. End of story.
The rest of the statistics we shared, not to frighten, but to inform. Being online is a big deal. It opens up new avenues and it carries with it a new type of responsibility. We asked if he felt that at 11 he was ready to handle these things. He agreed that he was not so we didn’t even come out as the bad guys.
When he turned 13 he decided he didn’t want facebook. Some friends had told him that it wasn’t all that it seems to be and it becomes more of a nuisance than necessary. Whew. Off the hook again.
He’s 13 and a half now and he just asked again. This time I said yes without hesitation. Yes because we can only say no for so long. Yes because he has proven trustworthy in his life. Yes because we’d rather him not doubt our word and we did say back at 11 that he had to wait until he was 13. Yes because we don’t want to put it off for so long that the desire for him to have it becomes so great that it becomes something he may sneak. Yes because he’s still young enough to understand that he has to give us all passwords and that we will do random checks.
But. Of course there is a but. What kind of parent do you think I am?!
But we have to talk first. We have to talk about the responsibility. We have to talk about the words we use. We have to talk about the fact that when you put something online the entire world can see it. Aunties and Uncles, family friends, grandma’s, university registrars and future employers. We have to talk about representing our family and your reputation. We have to talk about being an ambassador for Jesus even in your online interactions.
After we talked I said yes again. Yes, you can have it. I will pray with you and for you in new ways because of it. I will ask you different questions now because of it. Lastly, we’re trusting that we have taught you well and that you will operate online with integrity.
Guess what? The boy said no! No thanks, Mom! I think I’ll just wait.
So my question for today is this: Are your kids part of any social media groups? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? What age did you allow them to join? If your kids are younger have you thought about these things? What are your thoughts, given your life experience with online sites, as to when you might allow them to participate?