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Parent blog: Just say “no” to Tweenbook

Julie Poppen is a journalist, an editor and writer for Education News Colorado and the mother of an incoming fifth grader, who already knows how to use Julie’s smartphone better than Julie does.

Social media giant Facebook is pondering allowing children under age 13 to have their own Facebook accounts, according to the Wall Street Journal. OMG, I agree with all the parents who don’t think this is a good idea.

I can’t quite imagine what my 9-year-old daughter – or some of her friends (or foes, who would also probably “friend” her)  – might post. Where we live, there’s already a disturbing degree of brand consciousness. I could imagine tweens posting photos of their new Tom’s shoes or Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts. I can imagine them posting all kinds of You Tube videos, some of which might not be appropriate for young eyeballs. I could imagine them blathering on about The Hunger Games, a young adult book series I won’t let my daughter read. I can imagine my daughter lamenting this fact in a Facebook post.

Bottom line: I imagine tweens on Facebook would do their best to act like teens on Facebook. And I don’t want that.

In this era of almighty technology and over-the-top marketing, it is increasingly difficult to protect the sanctity of childhood. The internet is truly an amazing thing, connecting us all in a way that was not possible such a short time ago. If my daughter’s inclination was to use the computer to learn about new cultures, boost her math skills, connect with other kids about age-appropriate books, that’d be great. But I don’t think that’s what happens on Facebook with kids.

But wait, kids are already on Facebook

I know there are kids under age 13 on Facebook already, even though they’re not supposed to be, so some people argue we should legitimate this trend and allow our youngsters to sign up – with parental approval – without lying about birth dates.

According to a Consumer Reports survey, five to seven million children under the age of 13 are already using Facebook. Under a sanctioned “Facebook for Kids,” parents supposedly would be able to link their accounts to their children’s and control friend requests and third-party apps. Yep, more work for parents. And more demands from kids: “But mom, every kid in my class has a Facebook page: It’s legal!”

I already tested the waters of tween online social interaction when I helped my daughter set up a gmail account. OK, let me be honest: I lied about her age. I imagined her keeping in close contact with her grandma and grandpa in Georgia, her aunt in Michigan, and friends who have moved away.

That’s not what happened.

Instead, she found herself in the midst of a mindless exchange of messages from a group of school friends. Since I didn’t let her on the computer all the time, she found herself struggling to catch up with lengthy e-mail threads made up of mostly gibberish, punctuated with cruelty.

I notice now that school is out, the e-mails have slowed to a drip. And my daughter has pretty much lost interest. If my daughter was on Facebook, I would  have to monitor the action there, too, and I have better uses of my time.

Face time is better

No, I am a big fan of face time. In recent months, a girl my daughter’s age moved onto our street. The two girls now run to each other’s houses, bang on doors and ask to play. There are no phone calls, no e-mails. They jump on trampolines, go on bike rides, pretend they’re explorers looking for the elusive Loch Ness monster or otherwise mess around until dark.

Facebook is great; but it can also be a pretty lonely place and let’s not forget it’s a public company and our personal information is its vital commodity. I’d rather see my daughter running through the grass playing “sardines” with the neighbor boys, creating Duct tape cell phones or drawing pictures of monsters with a gaggle of girlfriends.

I am definitely  not alone on this one. Common Sense Media, a site I regularly consult for advice on age-appropriate apps, video games, books, and movies, shares my view, and has started a petition to protest Facebook’s “younging down.” What is the right age for Facebook? Hmmmm. I’m saying 16, but I’m sure my daughter would strongly disagree. And, if she was on Facebook, she’d be sure to let you know about that, too.

About our First Person series:

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