How old should you be to Facebook?

I ran across an interesting article on KSL today entitled “Is 12 too young for Social Media?” While I agree with the intent of the article, I think there is another angle to explore. The line that caught my attention is this “Stay says there are some dangers with allowing 12-year-olds to use sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter“. Yes, there are – and those same dangers apply to people who are 13, 15, 18, 25 and so on.

Yes, I understand that as children mature, they improve in their ability to make good choices, and they evolve in their understanding of dangers both in the physical world and the digital one. But, there is nothing magical about ANY birthday – the person is still the same person they were the day before.

Think of it this way: We have a child who recently turned 18. My wife and I didn’t all of a sudden start treating him like an adult, just because he had a birthday – rather, we give him the freedoms that he has proven he can handle as he grew up. When he reached 18, he had already shown he could handle certain freedoms. Whether or not the world thinks he is an adult has no bearing on the freedoms that we allow him – other than those afforded by law, of course (in other words, we wouldn’t allow him to drive at 14, just because he showed the ability to handle that responsibility).

Similarly, we don’t let our 13 year old watch any-and-every PG13 movie, just because some rating system tells me it is appropriate for 13-year-olds. We, as the parents, decide what is OK for our 13 year old to watch. There are some PG13 movies that my wife and I won’t watch – and there are some that we allow our 11-year old to watch. It all depends on the content of the movie and the person’s ability to handle that particular content or topic. We, as the parents, make the judgement call – not our community, our society, or Hollywood.

Similarly, I believe that there are some 13, 15, 18 and older people who shouldn’t be on Facebook. It all comes down to the individuals understanding of the technology and the ramifications of not being digitally responsible. If you don’t believe me, just look into the story of Cynthia Moreno, a college student (well over 13) who posted a rant about her hometown on her MySpace page. Not a good idea – and her family has suffered greatly now because of it.

Rather than talk about a specific age when we should allow our children to participate on a social network, we should look at how that child handles themselves, and what they know of the dangers of the web. Those who can be digitally responsible should be able to use technology – just as those of my children who can be responsible drivers are going to be able to borrow my keys. Those who cannot, will have to wait a while longer – no matter how old they are.

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