Okay, this might generate some heated responses, if not online, then perhaps in people’s minds and homes. First off: This is not directed to any individuals or families in particular. And this is not to criticize anyone’s parenting (while I’m examining a speck in your eye, there may very well be a plank in my own).
Here’s what’s on my mind… More and more, we seem to view children as mini-adults, capable of adult logic and discernment. Do little kids really know how to make their own nutritious meals or set their own bedtime? Should an adolescent referee an argument between Dad and Mom? Do we need preschoolers feeling superior to their peers because they’re wearing brand name clothes? Was I the only person in the movie theatre wondering why a dad took his ~6-year-old daughter to see PG-13-rated Star Trek? And why are parents letting their single-digit-aged children set up Facebook accounts?
Regarding that last question in particular, one of the terms to which you agree when you create a Facebook profile is that you are at least 13 years of age. If you are under 13 and using Facebook, you lied when you created your profile and gave your date of birth as it won’t accept birth dates after 1997. There’s an ethical dilemma right there.
According to the UK’s Guardian, that dilemma is not stopping “a quarter of children [in the UK] between the ages of 8 and 12 [from] evading the age restrictions imposed by social networking sites.” This is not without its risks. A quarter of these under-age children “admitted having strangers as friends [and] a fifth claimed to have met strangers they had encountered online.” Children are not as discerning as we might hope.
Security risks aside, I’m not sure how well children are capable of using Facebook wisely in general. I’m not sure how well I’m capable of using Facebook wisely! I need my wife’s reminders when enough is enough and when it’s time for some human interaction irl (in real life). It’s easy to get sucked into social networking (to say nothing of online games, YouTube videos, etc.) and not realize how much time is slipping by. What’s more, how much of our children’s perception of reality do we want shaped by virtual reality?
The internet and social networking are ubiquitous. Nevertheless, I hope to ground my kids in real life before introducing them to life online. Perhaps as I read to them and play games with them and teach them to pray and help them work on a puzzle or colour a picture, they’ll remind me anew of the great value of living irl.