The parents we talk to are excited by the doors technology can open for their children. Wether their kids are navigating the depths of the PPG Aquarium’s Big Ocean Tank with Reefbot or exploring their own back yards with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Digital Discovery Room one thing is clear–a dose of the digital can make learning feel like play. While parents are quick to allow their children the use of digital learning tools, their feelings are far more complicated surrounding social media.
When it comes to social media and children it seems every question asked raises another. Should you let your children use Facebook? If so, at what age should they be allowed? When you do allow them to use Facebook, how closely should you monitor them? These are only some of the questions being discussed this week on MSNBC‘s new blog series “Red Tape Parenting Debates.”
Bob Sullivan outlines a few of the largest concerns surrounding the debate:
“There are risks to early Facebook use. Many are obvious: Sexual predators lurk on the Web, and Facebook could be a place where they find targets. Cyberbullying is even a bigger risk, as young children often don’t have the emotional and psychological awareness to make good decisions about what they post.”
These dangers are real, but are we naive in believing they don’t exist in non-digital incarnations as well? Is a child really exposed to a higher level of danger in your living room than they are at the local park or mall? Do these possibilities really form the crux of the debate? Sullivan believes more common concerns may be creating the most friction:
“These dramatic concerns can seem distant and unlikely, however, and most parents will find the Facebook discussion involves more mundane problems, such as whether their kids are glued to social networking sites instead of doing their homework. Are they up late chatting with friends instead of getting enough sleep? Are they sitting in front of a computer on sunny days when they should be exercising outside? And perhaps most of all, is Facebook use triggering one of those constant power struggles between kids and parents that the adults are doomed to lose? After all, saying no at home probably means the kid will do it anyway at a friend’s house, or with a smart phone under the covers late at night.”
It can be important to remember that one parent’s rules aren’t every parent’s rules. I remember when I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to watch the Simpsons while my best friend wasn’t allowed to watch MTV. We hurdled these rules pretty easily by just walking across the street to the other’s house. I find it easy to believe that children who are forbidden to access Facebook are currently involved in the same covert tactics.
So what can you do as a parent, and what level of concern and surveillance is necessary? Join the ongoing debate at msnbc and tell us what you think!