Do pre-teens share too freely?

Facebook is designed to be used by people who are at least 13 years old. However, millions of pre-teens use the social networking site. And that’s really not so surprising; after all, Facebook seems to be the place to connect. But it’s also not surprising that many parents are not happy to find out their child is on Facebook.

The Dangers

Most experts are in agreement that Facebook is not the best environment for pre-teens. This puts them at risk for being exposed to ads and other content intended for adult readers; plus, children at these sites are often targeted by predators and cyber bullies.

Adults are aware of the fact that Facebook and other social networking sites can be dangerous places for pre-teens. It’s like allowing a child to wander through the streets of a city alone. While the kids may meet some wonderful people and see some interesting sights along the way, there is also a potential for bad things to happen.

How They Get In

Although some pre-teens are “sneaking” into Facebook without their parent’s knowledge, others are being coached about the process. There are some parents who believe it is better to coach children through the steps of opening and using an account rather than risk the hidden behaviors.

The reality is, Facebook and other social networking sites are basic tools of communication that are used to keep in touch with friends and family members. It just makes sense that pre-teens want to be part of that.

Keeping Pre-Teens Safe

The most important thing about allowing pre-teens to use Facebook is keeping them safe. With that in mind, before making the decision to allow a pre-teen to have a Facebook account, parents should consider whether the child is trustworthy and responsible enough to handle the account. For instance, would the child report to the parents if someone was bullying her?

If the decision is made to allow a pre-teen to use Facebook, some basic ground rules should be set. These will likely include details about when and where the child is allowed to access the account and for how long. Consequences for breaking the rules should be explained.

It’s a Teaching Opportunity

As you set up the account, use the entire experience as an opportunity to learn and bond together. Using one of your own email accounts in the set-up process will provide you with an opportunity to keep track of account happenings.

Privacy settings should be set for maximum privacy – the profile should be kept as private as possible. With this setting in place, the pre-teen can search for and “friend” other people, but other people cannot find and friend her. Identifying information should be kept very limited – this includes the profile image. Instead of using a personal picture, you can use a photo of a pet or scenery.

Be sure to impress upon your child the importance of the secrecy of the password. Tell her that she cannot share it with anyone else.

Teach your pre-teen how to make posts on Facebook and what kinds of posts are okay and what is not okay. For instance, she should never post her address or phone number or personal information about herself or her family. Information about vacations should never be posted.

Take the time to explain what cyber bullying is and why it is so important for her to tell you if anyone bullies her online. Show her what spam messages look like. The point is, parents can turn the experience into much more than simply opening up an account at Facebook – besides keeping your child safe online, this is an opportunity to introduce her to proper social networking etiquette and more.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is, children under the age of 13 should not be on Facebook. But for those who are, the use of certain features, like a private profile and limited identifying information, can help ensure their safety. Parents can teach children how to use social networking properly, thus turning the process of opening and using a Facebook account into a true learning experience. This helps ensure that children learn about safety rules of the Internet as well as what is considered good social networking manners.

In this way, children of today will become future rock stars of Facebook!

Contributor:   Debbie Allen is a content writer, blogger, and Internet marketer who enjoys writing about small business management, online marketing strategies, and entrepreneur rock stars like Steve Wynn.  Debbie is interested in topics related to reputation management and anything related to lifestyle.