I have a couple of “friends” on Facebook who are 14 years old. They’re the children of good friends who are also connected with me on Facebook. Like me, these moms travel a fair amount, and social media is one more way for them to connect with their kids when they’re on the road. At least one of the parents has a deal that allows her daughter to use social media as long as she has full access to the password and can monitor her friends and messages. These kids may be more precocious than we were at their age, but I feel good that they’re surrounded by responsible grownups who, like me, would likely rat on them to their parents if they saw anything untoward going on that Mom or Dad might have missed. As my own mother often told me, “I’m not here to be your buddy; my job is to keep you safe.” It seems my fellow parent friends have an implicit understanding that when it comes to keeping our kids safe online, it really does take a village.
On the other hand, I’ve done a few things that might be considered irresponsible on social networking sites, like posting pictures of my daughter. She’s no longer in the picture on my Twitter account, but she, in all her glorious cuteness, still exists on my Facebook page (where only friends can see). And unlike many more active Facebookers, my account is populated only by people I actually know. After a bad experience, I no longer post my current whereabouts on any kind of site, and I generally use Twitter only to disseminate things I’ve already written for public consumption.
Naturally, at two years old, my daughter is too young for her own account, but the attitudes of my friends with somewhat older children generally jibe with a new survey conducted by Ketchum Global Research Network for Liberty Mutual and the Responsibility Project, which collected information from more than 1,000 adults nationwide between January 12th and 15th of this year.
Compared with 2010, this year’s survey showed that parents are much more inclined to allow their children to have a Facebook or MySpace account before the age of 18 (80% in 2011 vs. 69% in 2010) and that moms were more permissive than dads (83% vs. 77%). The number of parents who say they would allow their child to have a social media account between the ages of 10 and 12 doubled in the last year, despite the fact that it’s not even permitted (13 is the minimum age set by Congress in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits Web sites from collecting information on kids without parental permission; it’s the minimum age to sign on to Facebook and MySpace).
Interestingly, a new clinical report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) finds some benefits to kids using social networking media, although the report stresses that decisions to use it should be carefully monitored. For instance, the report states how using social media allows teens to accomplish tasks that are important to them offline, such as staying connected with friends and family, making new friends, engaging in community charity and fundraising events, and increasing creativity through sharing artistic and musical endeavors; but it also cites a phenomenon it calls “Facebook Depression,” resulting from teens spending too much time engaged with people on a virtual level, as well as cyberbullying and sexting.
In fact, a release announcing the report says, “Pediatricians are adding another topic to their list of questions for visits with school-aged and adolescent patients: Are you on Facebook?”
According to the RP survey, parents have already become more inclined to monitor their kids’ accounts, with 70% monitoring their kids’ friends in 2011, up from 55% in 2010, and privacy settings up to 50% in 2011 from 44% last year. And most parents whose kids have social media accounts are “friends” with their children (74%), up from 69% last year. Of the features they monitor, wall posts and comments head the bunch (93%), followed by posted pictures (89%) and status updates (76%).
It also seems that parents have become more cautious in other ways. Compared to last year, the RP survey found that social media users are much less likely to think that it is responsible for parents to post pictures of their children online (down to 35% from 50%); but despite that fact, 61% of them admit to posting them (and 70% of those were moms vs. 52% dads).
The survey also found that most parents are putting limits on their children’s use of technology (including when they can be online or text messaging); and that parents who monitor their kids’ overall online use are also likely to limit the amount of time their kids spend on social media sites. Finally, an overwhelming number of parents (96%) said that they would not allow their children under age 18 to use a tool that publicizes their location. But if they had a way to track their kids, 72% would. See a helpful infographic detailing these results here. Also be sureto read our handy age-appropriate roundup of Do’s and Don’ts for engaging with your children about social media as well as our Social Media Survival Tips, both of which were authored by Dr. Janet Taylor, MD, MPH.
Where do you fall within these results? Are you already your child’s social media connection? Do you monitor your child’s social media use? And would you – or do you – track your kids via a geolocation device?