Coming Of Age

20 06 2011

These are tough times to be a parent.

Not that any other era before wasn’t tough. Heck, my parents raised me through the turbulent late-60s and flower power 70s. And my grandparents raised their kids through the Great Depression.

But today we have to worry about raising our children in the technoligical era. At what age should they be introduced to the things we currently take for granted? Or, for that matter, when should we push them into the fray, a fray many of us don’t truly fully understand ourselves?

Or, put more bluntly, When should our kids get Facebook accounts?

That’s a tough one. Facebook is clear on its homepage that one must be 13, but Mark Zuckerberg isn’t exactly checking IDs at the door. This is just Facebook’s way of dodging the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, which stipulates that any site collecting information of under-13s must get parental permission along with credit card v verification. Zuckerberg just doesn’t want to go there.

But a recent study by Consumer Reports shows that there are 7.5 million (out of 700 million total) users under the age of 13. And until a certain eldest daughter of mine had a birthday late last fall, she was one of them. And so were most of her Facebook friends.

She was ready for a FB account at 12. Yes, Dad lied. He filled out the form and got her the account, tethered tightly to a separate email account (which I monitor constantly). She inquired about it incessantly, and I, her geek Dad, knew that she could handle it. From the age of one she had a mouse in her hand, and was quite capable of finding her way around the interwebs. She got the FB account at 12, and an iPhone at 13. Today, she knows more about Facebook’s treacherous waters than do most people twice her age.

And that because I laid down the law and showed what she ought not click. Using Facebook is like dancing through a malware minefield, and if the number of suspicious wall posts (usually linked to nasty porn videos) I get from my own FB friends is any indication, there’s a lot of adults who need to take notes from said daughter.

But you know what? These kids have to learn sometime. And as far as I am concerned, the younger the better. These are life skills, and if you are growing up digital, you’d better not be behind the curve.

Younger daughter was also raised with a mouse in hand, but is not quite ready yet for social networking. But when she is, I will be there to hold her hand as she moves into these treacherous waters. I consider this just as important as knowing how to speak publicly, which fork to use at a business dinner, and how to drive in traffic. In other words, basic personal and professional survival skills.

There is no shortage of “Facebook Lite” social networking sites now available for kids (such as Everloop, Imbee, and Togetherville), which all serve the good purpose of helping kids cut their social teeth. But what will these kids all do when they hit 13? Will there be a simple way to migrate all of their friends to Facebook? Or will they have to start over?

Which to me means that maybe Facebook needs to revisit this issue. I, for one, would be happy to secure my daughters’ accounts with credit card verification. I know that there are potholes out there, stalkers, pervs, creeps and the like. But I also know that I am responsible for teaching my kids about these things, and I want to be on the front line of parental duty, not trying to build a false moat around their lives.

Social networking may not exist in 15 years the way we know it today, just like the internet of 2011 is a far cry from what it was in 1996. But we must all stay current in the changes, proactive and not reactive, preparing our kids for the road ahead. It has always been tough being a parent, but that’lt just part of the job description. And I’ll take this era any day over hippies and flower power.

Sheesh. What were we thinking anyway?

Dr “Status Updated” Gerlich

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