As you might have heard, Facebook has launched a new app aimed at children ages 6-12. The app allows for children to message and video chat with a contact list that parents have control over. There is a great deal of controversy over this, with even major news organization chiming in, as well as child educators and advocate organizations.
The response has been primarily negative, with over a dozen experts actually sending a letter to the CEO of Facebook. The truth is, that like most things, there are both pros and cons to this new app.
We already know that too much screen time is not good for anyone, let alone young children. Encouraging more screen time at younger and younger ages is just feeding the problem. That being said, however, technology is here to stay. It is being used in classrooms, it is being used with toddlers, it crosses all age barriers. If you hide from it, you or your children will most certainly be left behind. So let’s take a look at the good along with the bad.
- The messages don’t disappear like they do on Snapchat, so parents can more easily monitor the content
- It is potentially safer than allowing a child to have free access to chat/video on a phone, as the parents have control over the contact list and it is attached to the adult’s account
- The age to sign up for a regular Facebook is 13, and many younger than that simply lie about their age anyway. This might be a way to give them enough of what they want to prevent them from doing that.
- Children will many times find a way to use the technology if they really want to, despite your wishes. Perhaps granting them this permission with the controls it offers is a good compromise. Otherwise, they might just create an account for themselves while at their friend’s house.
- There are no ads, and some safeguards for preventing bullying are built in. No other app really offers that.
- You don’t have to let your 6 year old use this, just because it is available to them. You can decide what age works best in your family.
- It is visually extremely appealing to young children. The website is colorful and engaging, and offers stickers and filters that are a lot of fun to use. This means your child will want it.
- The peer pressure to have it could make your child want this. It might become a situation where your child won’t even fit in if they don’t have it.
- The use of social media at young ages will become more normalized.
- Children will potentially get “hooked,” so Facebook is gaining life-long customers by “marketing” to them at a young age.
- It increases kids’ dependence on devices to communicate with one another, thereby minimizing and hindering their ability to have real face-to-face interactions with others.
- It is possible that Facebook will find other ways to market and advertise to these youngsters, even if the app is ad free.
As parents, you do have the right to choose what works for your family and what is right for your own children. But there are some things you need to know. Children are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users.
We already know that the more time children and teens spend on social media, the more likely it is for them so suffer from depression, anxiety, and an overall unhealthy lifestyle. Worse, it can actually lead to an addiction. More and more, we are learning that social media stimulates the same areas of the brain as using drugs, thereby leading to the same addictive behaviors.
Remember that no matter what you choose, it is necessary for children, and all human beings, to maintain human, face-to-face contact and relationships with others. Let the devices become a way of supplementing that, rather than replacing it.
Monitor diligently what your child is doing online, and teach them what to share and what to keep private. Make sure they understand the limits and consequences of inappropriate use and safety issues. Do not allow bullying of any type. Lastly, make sure they know to tell you or another trusted adult if they see any problematic or disturbing content posted by others.