By Janine Redstock, Guest Contributor to TechAddiction
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in guest articles are solely those of the author and are not necessarily the views of TechAddiction and/or Dr. Conrad.
Founded in 2004, Facebook is a social networking site with over 900 million users worldwide. In 2009 a study showed that Facebook was the most used social network worldwide with over 40% of the US population having an active profile.
With its popularity so high, it seems like everybody wants to be a part of the Facebook party. But with age restrictions in place, this can be a source of contention for younger children. Currently, Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities requires users to be at least 13 years of age before creating an account. However many under 13’s use the service anyway, either by lying about their age or having an older party sign up on their behalf. This suggests that many parents do condone the use of Facebook in their preteen children by consenting to them using it and even helping them sign up.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and creator of Facebook, agrees that age restrictions are unnecessary and hopes to have the under-13 rule removed in the future. He feels that educating children about the internet should begin at an early age. Speaking to CNN, he also added “My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age. Because of the restrictions we haven’t even begun this learning process. If they’re lifted then we’d start to learn what works. We’d take a lot of precautions to make sure that they [younger kids] are safe.”
However keeping children safe is a major concern for parents where Facebook, and the online world in general, is concerned. Some of the worries about potential dangers of Facebook include the following:
With studies indicating that 43% of US teens have experienced some form of hostile behaviour towards them online, cyber bullying is a real issue. Facebook offers several reporting facilities by which users can report a group, individual or instance of cyber bullying. But sadly this doesn’t seem to be enough to stop the heartbreaking amount of teenage suicides that take place each year due to online abuse, with at least three high profile cases of children between the ages of 12 and 13 taking their own lives after being victimized online.
Experts believe that bullying in the online world is even more prevalent than bullying in the real world as it opens up the possibility to anonymity. Hiding behind a computer screen, many people feel able to act in a way that wouldn’t be socially acceptable in the real world. There is also a distinct lack of supervision on many online forums and websites that legislation and awareness campaigns are looking to tackle.
Health – Mental and Physical
Childhood obesity isn’t just down to comfortable seating and TV. In the UK, a shocking 25% of boys and 33% of girls under 19 are overweight or obese and in America these statistics are even higher. There are several contributing factors to this other than Facebook and computer use, but with their social lives being so readily available without them even having to leave the house, many children are becoming lazy and opting to interact with their friends online rather than going out to play.
This lack of face-to-face contact and stimulation can also have effects on mental health with psychologists suggesting that children are becoming lonely, isolated and unaware of basic social practices.
Other factors such as peer pressure and rejection can also lead to alienation, anxiety and depression. Simon Foxely, a British musician, tragically hung himself after being unfriended by a girl he met on Facebook. Despite never actually meeting the girl, he became infatuated with her via the social networking site and killed himself when she chose to terminate their online friendship.
For child predators, the internet and Facebook are tools they can use to interact with and prey on innocent children. The old adage that you never know who you might be talking to online is sinisterly true here, and often children are lured into correspondence with dangerous people by fake photos and profiles. It is impossible to know the true intentions of someone you meet online, as 17 year old Ashleigh Hall discovered when she was tragically murdered by a man she met on Facebook back in 2009.
Restricting access to your profile by upping privacy settings and not revealing any personal information can help. But ultimately the only failsafe way to avoid being contacted by anyone dangerous online is to abstain altogether.
Many people are unaware of the legal repercussions that Facebook can have. Offensive, personal statements and cyberbullying can result in a harassment lawsuit and people have been known to lose their jobs or health related benefits after being spotted socialising on Facebook.
Whilst what you post of Facebook today may seem cool now, often the content online can be around forever and could become compromising in the future.
Of course all of these problems can affect older users as well as children but the ongoing debate is that under 13’s don’t have the emotional intelligence or judgement to deal with them at such a young age. Whilst some parents argue that allowing your child to have a Facebook account exposes them to no different dangers to letting them go to the shops unsupervised, others argue that we should be protecting our children by keeping them away from any extra pressures or dangers. Either way, with children becoming more computer literate and no means of enforcing any hard fast rules to keep them off Facebook, perhaps education and supervision are the best ways to keep them safe.
Guest Author Bio
Janine Redstock is a freelance writer and designer who loves nothing more than checking out her Wall but having seen the effects of Facebook bullying first hand is very interested in the debate over removing the age limit.
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Facebook Age Restrictions: Justified, Unnecessary or Pointless?