So social networking giant Facebook – now the third most populated “country” in the world – is considering a planned “baby boom.” OK. . . so they’ve already got millions of kids under the allowed age of 13 already “living” within their boundaries. . . all of them on there as a result of ignoring Facebook’s rules, either with or without parental permission, the former being pretty doggone troubling.

I would side with those who say this isn’t only not a good idea, but it’s a horribly bad idea. Supporters of the shift will scoff at the notion that allowing young kids on Facebook is anything less than harmless. But will that be the case? My starting point is with what I’ve been learning as a part of loads of research for our growing Digital Kids Initiative here at CPYU. All you have to do is take a look at some of our handouts and fact sheets, including our Primer on Social Networking and Primer on Electronic Addiction. Then, add just a little bit of common sense that’s been steeped in careful observation of the kids and adults that we already know have been shaped in negative ways by too much social media and a lack of personal boundaries or thoughtful engagement.

This week I’ve been hunkered down with a new doctoral cohort in our Ministry to Emerging Generations track at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. One of our Korean students is passionate about teaching media literacy to his students. He’s used the term “mediaholics” several times in his description of their media use.
 I think we need to listen carefully to our Korean friends as they’ve not only recognized that the South Korean population has a deep documented problem with electronic addiction, but they are wisely and out of necessity working to develop preventive strategies. And that’s where I think we need to begin on this question of Facebook and kids younger than 13.

Some initial thoughts on why I think Facebook for the younger set shouldn’t be an option. . .

1. Where they’re at developmentally. We are learning more and more about the biophysiology of the human brain. Do we really think that removing options for spending time in play, human interaction, reading, writing, etc. and replacing them with static time in front of a screen is a good thing? Take a look around your neighborhood this summer. If your neighborhood is like mine, you’re seeing fewer and fewer kids playing outside. It’s not because there are fewer kids. It’s because there are fewer kids playing outside with each other because they are inside glued to some kind of screen. Do we really need more of that? Let’s give it a few years here until these kids grow up and the research starts to roll in. I’ve got a strong more-than-a-hunch that our mistakes and foolishness will be exposed. Little kids are extremely vulnerable. Their brains are forming. Why would we risk endangering them at the level of their developmental vulnerabilities?

2. The danger of addiction. Sure, people are currently arguing over whether or not electronic addiction is something real to reckon with. At the very least we are messing with potential idols. . . those things that our fallen hearts are drawn to. I believe that electronic addiction is real. Check out our handout. Our South Korean friends will tell you its real. And as with other types of addictions, the fallout is immediate, long-term, and far-reaching. Why would we risk facilitating and feeding electronic addiction?

3. The danger of too-much too-soon. More time online means more exposure to images, ideas, worldviews, etc. David Elkind warned us years ago about the danger of actively or passively pushing kids to grow up too soon. Why would we choose to push them into the world of adult ideas, pressures, and actions when they need to be allowed to be kids?

4. Exposure to advertising. Fact: children and teens are the most targeted market segment in the world. Fact: children are the most impressionable and easily-swayed market segment in the world. Facebook time will translate into exposure to hundreds of thousands of additional advertising messages. Ads sell product. But ads are even more effective at selling a worldview. Why would we want to sit them down in front of even more commercials?

5. Facilitating relational isolation. Flesh-and-blood relationships are increasingly at-risk and even disintegrating. Could a day be coming when they are passe? Proponents will argue that Facebook time is social networking time. . . which is relationship building time. These are not real relationships. Social media can strengthen and deepen a few flesh-and-blood relationships. Why would we want to fracture families, friendships, and communities even more?

6. Retarding socialization. Flesh-and-blood relationships with a diverse multi-aged group of family and friends is necessary to healthy socialization. Sitting on a screen curating yourself through photos and posts fosters aloneness. . . not a well-adjusted socialized self. Chances are we’d be throwing “miracle-grow” into the soil that fosters a lack of ability to look others in the eye, carry on a conversation, and answer with anything but a grunt or groan.

I know that today I’m sounding a little old and cranky. I’d like to think I’m being realistic.

12 thoughts on “Facebook and Kids Under 13. . . Not A Good Idea. . .

  1. I think this should give us good reason to examine ourselves, as well, not just those under the age of 13! But how many adults are willing to say they’re too immature for facebook…

  2. Uhhhhh. . . caught. . . that’s what happens when I’m in the classroom for 8 hours, blogging on breaks, and trusting spell-check rather than proofing.

  3. Um, I agree that some of the reason kids are not playing outside is because of electronics –but a fair chunk of the reason is –they are somewhere else –their parents work and they are at camps or daycare…

    having said that I agree that FB is part of the accumulation of excess and risky electronic media…

  4. Those grammar hawks – There always ready to show they’re ability show if theirs any writing mistakes. I should know. I are one.

    Back to matters of a bit more substance, I think the main issue of tweens on Facebook is that they are spending more screen time rather than face-to-face time with others. Social networking can stunt social growth.

  5. Walt,
    This is an interesting predicament for youth ministries. We use facebook to share pictures from events, remind students to sign up for events, post things from our services, and even connect with students (even if shallow) that we otherwise would not be able to.
    The question that comes to my mind is how should we/should we not use this with out middle schoolers if facebook lowers it’s age requirement.

  6. My thoughts on the prior comment. . . Since parents will have to buy in, I would be careful. Let’s say half of your middle school parents buy in and half don’t. What do we do then? I wouldn’t do anything that would feed the pressure kids whose parents have not bought in will already be putting on their parents. That’s an easy answer, I know. But there’s a way in which we could be undermining the authority of parents and make it even more difficult for them.

  7. As an adult who has a facebook page, I will not communicate with any organization that only uses facebook to share information. I think it is poor form. I would encourage youth ministers to employ the old-fashioned newsletter, even if it is just a monthly e-mail, in addition to their facebook usage. That allows for parents and teens/tweens not using facebook to still participate.

  8. I suppose one reason FB wants to lower its age range is to advertise to them. If so, then your fourth point is a bit more troubling. Can you link to an article about FB’s new considerations?

  9. Right now in our youth ministry, we communicate through many avenues, yet that has created more work administratively. So one of the worst things to do is to tell students and parents and put out there that you are using some kind of Social Media to communicate and then go “guns-blazin” with it for a month and then forget about it. Flow chart of communication is a must now for ministries using media communication. Currently for an event we communicate via:
    paper calendar
    church website calendar
    email to students and parents
    paper printouts in lobby
    facebook page event
    facebook group event
    facebook email
    youth pastors personal facebook post

    and we are beginning to work in texting services and currently we went back to good ol’ phone calls made to students by students and had the best response ever!! haha

    So as we think about it, communicating a single event takes almost twice the time as it used to, yet more students and parents can be reached with the info.

  10. I agree with Mueller. I think we should actually talk to people rather then going into a room and typing into a screen. Look up and see the world around you. There are many opportunities that you can miss when you’re always texting or facebooking, etc. By rendering it available to a younger age group, you expose them to an addiction that causes them to disconnect with those they are close to and then parents will have children who won’t be as obedient, “Oh I just have to save this game/beat this level, I’m almost done/finish my sentence, ” etc. Back in the day, there was no one second, you came right away. The level of respect for parents has diminished and if offered to children they will be exposed to people who swear, for example, and because they see this often, it will become acceptable to them. Often I hear people saying you don’t want to leave people in the dark but children don’t need information that they will learn later on in life like sex. Also, pedophiles will have an easier time reaching a younger age group if the age requirement is lowered because as mentioned children are more easily swayed than adults so convincing them to meet alone with this person for a “play-date” is very easy. On a final note, children will be exposed to more advertisements which will boost the economy but if parents are spending money on unnecessary items, then they may not be able to save money for their child’s education/future, and by doing that the child will probably have less successful future. This can be reversed. If instead of seeing all of these commercials, the child spent the time instead focusing on their interests and self-discovery, they will later have the determination for success and knowledgeable in the field of their interest

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