Parents, educators welcome Facebook for kids


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Brook Anderson interviewed Ayman Itani, Think Media's CEO, about Facebook's recent announcement that they are considering to allow kids under 13 years old to join Facebook while providing parental supe...

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Parents, educators welcome Facebook for kids

  1. 1. Local NewsParents, educators welcome Facebookfor kidsJune 26, 2012 01:39 AMBy Brooke AndersonThe Daily StarFacebook currently bans children under 13, though many preteens still use the site.BEIRUT: Facebook’s announcement earlier this month that it wouldconsider allowing children under 13 to access the site has been metwith little reaction from parents.In fact, many young kids already have accounts, and some parentsand educators say it can be a good thing with the right supervision.Hana Ghannoum was with her son two years ago when he opened aFacebook account at the age of 10.
  2. 2. “I was against him lying about his age. But he had two older sisters onFacebook, and he wanted to be a part of the whole thing,” Ghannoumsays, noting that her son added her as a “friend” on the site, whichallows her to see his activity.So far, Ghannoum, a psychology instructor at the American Universityof Beirut, says Facebook has been a good experience for her children,who use the site to share photos of their vacations and stay in touchwith friends.In fact, as the family prepares to relocate to Germany, her childrenhave already made friends with their new classmates through theworld’s largest social networking site, which she believes is a goodway for them to ease the transition to a new country.But she understands the concern many parents might have overincreased access for younger users, who might not be mature enoughto handle certain content, language and interactions online. Severalmonths ago, her children’s school sent a note to parents, asking themto speak to their kids about online bullying, which had become aproblem among some students.While some have criticized the company for considering the inclusionof young children, many acknowledge that the move would changevery little and would only formalize an already existing situation. It iscommon for parents to set up accounts for their kids, and some haveeven created accounts for their babies as soon as they were born.The social networking site currently bans children under 13, in line withU.S. regulations which require parental consent for data collection ofchildren. This applies to all the countries throughout the world where itoperates. But the company itself admits that the rule is difficult toenforce, particularly with so many children wanting to use the site.According to a study in November by the Internet journal First Monday,19, 32, 55 and 69 percent of children (ages 10, 11, 12 and 13respectively) in the families they surveyed in the United States haveFacebook accounts.The same study found that 95, 88, 82 and 82 percent of children atthose ages who joined the social network did so with the awareness oftheir parents, while 78, 68, 76 and 60 percent of them did it with the
  3. 3. help of their parents.Still, in a move that it hopes will expand its user base while beingacceptable to parents, Facebook says it is working on prototypes thatwill allow preteens to use the site under parental supervision. Thiswould include allowing parents to decide who their children can orcan’t “friend” and what applications they use. The new features mightalso allow Facebook to charge parents for the games their childrenplay.While this new move might not change much in practice, it is causingparents and social media experts to evaluate the need for betterprivacy settings, parental supervision and communication with themuch younger generation that’s now socializing online.“Parents need to play a more active role in terms of awareness,” saysAyman Itani, media professor at the Lebanese American University.“It’s the same online: stranger danger, being careful about what theyshare.”However, at an age when kids are not only vulnerable to strangers, butalso have not developed time management skills, Itani stresses that itis important for parents to help get their children into the habit oflimiting their time online, especially on a site as engaging asFacebook.“A conscious effort needs to be made for a more balanced lifestyle,”Itani says. “I’m seeing more families making efforts – like saying nophones at the table.”John Hess, who works at an NGO in Beirut and is the father of fourchildren including two teenage boys, is against the idea of Facebooklowering its user age, which he believes is already too young.Because of the company’s lack of enforceable regulations, he says hehas a strict schedule for when his kids can go online, an agreement toshare their passwords with him until they are 16, and he monitors theiractivity on a weekly basis.“We have had to correct some bad language and communicating thewrong emotions to girls,” he says. “What’s interesting about Facebookand other social networking sites is the amount of raw emotion thatseems to come out in text. Closing messages with ‘I love you’ and ‘do
  4. 4. you love me back’ are exploratory feelings, but also ones that needdirection.“This is where we as parents can address the positive side of theseemotions, but also point out how these statements can send someonedown a path that they are not mature enough for.”Even with parental supervision, he wonders if some from the oldergenerations are able to understand the nuances of their children’sonline language, such as “hooking up” and “WTF” – which, in hisopinion, is all the more reason for parents to have opencommunication with their children in their daily lives rather than justclose supervision online.“With so many fathers traveling and working outside of Lebanon, Inotice that Facebook attempts to fill this need for familial intimacy,” hesays. “This is why youth find it so attractive and secretive. They havetheir own private world where humor and senseless things can beexpressed, but also a void can be met [through] a surrogate family.”As a parent, he sees the site as a double-edged sword, with the needto regulate his children’s use as well as an opportunity for them tolearn about the world, noting that following current events and relatingto friends have overtaken their interest in gaming as an online activity.He says, “I have noticed just in my children an awareness of the ArabSpring, the financial crisis in Greece, and the issues that their peergroups are facing in other parts of the world. It is almost like a globalsolidarity movement for youth.“Overall, I think that Facebook is a positive thing for youth ... I like thatkids have an avenue for expressing themselves. Of course theirimmaturity will show up, but that is to be expected.”A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star onJune 26, 2012, on page 4.