Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Facebook, with training wheels

A couple of months ago, one of the kids from the old neighborhood "friended" me on Facebook. I was a little flattered, but also taken aback: what could a tween possibly get out Facebook? We've talked before about the relentless march of technology such as cell phones into tinier and tinier hands, so it's probably inevitable that uber-popular social networking tools would make their way from the college kids to the high school kids ... and beyond.

Now, the parenting site Babble wants to push the ... "and beyond" even further. They have launched a genius app for Facebook that allows a parent to use their Facebook account to set up a page-within-a-page for their kids (or kid-related groups), restricting the "kid" section only to a carefully selected group.

On one level, Babble's app -- "Connected by Kids" -- makes a lot of sense to me. It offers a bit more power than the existing kid-centered networks (if something like Webkinz can even be called a network), but makes sure that every move is filtered through an adult. It mirrors my current e-mail approach, in which my oldest has an e-mail address that is linked to mine: every e-mail she sends comes to my inbox, as well as a special folder with her name on it. She can still sit down and pound out a message to her friend, but I see everything that flows in or out of the account.

Still, just because there are technologies that make it feasible and relatively safe for little kids to dip their toe in Facebook that doesn't mean that it's automatically a good idea. While it is fine for adults to have discussions on social networks such as Facebook or MySpace, kids ought to learn the feel of relationships through the real world first. Nevertheless, the trend of Facebook use by the 8 to 13-year-old set seems unlikely to abate, no matter how uncomfortable parents become, but I have to ask: How hard are you all going to fight against it?

By Brian Reid |  December 16, 2009; 12:14 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Safety
Previous: How far do you go in maintaining the Santa myth? | Next: 'Tis the season to put your kids on a card


This is what the "real world" now involves. As long as they don't spend 24/7 at it, why not "dip their toes"? Better to do it in this parentally supervised setting. I hadn't heard of this app, and I'm grateful for the "heads up!"

Posted by: captiolhillmom | December 16, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

My 8th, 6th and 4th graders have their own facebook accounts. I have the passwords, see what's going on, and so far, it's all pretty innocent. They've talked about school dances, projects, sports activities, vacations and friends. They tend to like the games on facebook more than anything else. They've had their own email addresses for approximately 4 years now, and I have all those passwords, too. So far, no harm, no foul.

Posted by: pamsdds | December 16, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

"While it is fine for adults to have discussions on social networks such as Facebook or MySpace"

jezebel 3 has no access to Facebook or MySpace.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 16, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Caphillmom, I didn't know about this ap and will check it out. My daughter has been asking for a fb account and I kept saying no, but this may be the answer.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | December 16, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Ugh, nothing worse that having a friend's child friend you. Don't want to hurt their feelings, but we are not "friends" and while most of my postings are clean they are certainly not for kids. I've had to call the parents and ask them to tell their kids that I really like them, but only have grown ups on facebook!

My kids are just 7&9 and I think I will likely discourage this stuff as long as humanly possible. The only upside I can see is an improvement in typing skills.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 16, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Our 9-year old loves Farmville and games and doesn't make use of the social aspect of it at all. Our 12-year old uses Facebook chat with his friends. He friended us so we see everything on his wall and no everyone he friends. We also have the capability to review his chats if we wanted to do so.

Facebook opens the door to a critical conversation with preteens about online security. Going to "preferences", making affirmative decisions about who sees what - that's where the conversation about online safety, protecting your privacy and good security practices is. Club Penguin is so controlled that there is no learning opportunity about security. If you avoid these opportunities to talk with your preteen about online security and good privacy practices, you better cross your fingers that they'll still be wanting to listen to you when they are older. I wouldn't wait to talk about sex with my kids. Why wait to talk about, and show them about, online security?

Bottom line: preteens are going online. Are you informing the practice and helping them navigate it safely or are you keeping your head firmly planted in the sand?

Posted by: anonfornow | December 16, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

"I see everything that flows in or out of the account"


"I have all those passwords"

I don't know why some parents feel that snooping into their tweens personal communications is a good idea. If you want to know what your kids are talking or writing about, why not just ask them? Don't you have the confidence that you've instilled decent enough values and safety measures in your kids by 11 or 12 that you don't have to go through the backdoor to find out if your kids are buying drugs, sharing porn, inhaling the nitrous oxide from the can of whipped cream, smoking, arranging sex hookups, or whatever tweens do nowadays? If you ask me, a parent should know the interests and activities of their kids at this age just by being involved and communicating with them. that is, of course, unless you know that you are raising disfunctional liars.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 16, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

We have a long while before we have to deal with this issue, but we won't "fight" it at all. We wouldn't fight the use of the telephone, and this is just another type of technology.
I agree with anon regarding teaching internet safety and again, you also have to teach telephone safety - it just goes with technology.
And, I agree to some degree with Whacky. I hope that I am raising my kid so that he wouldn't be doing "bad" things on the internet. But, I think you do have to monitor to some extent because kids do stupid things and other people take advantage of that.

Posted by: VaLGaL | December 16, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

If you want to know what your kids are talking or writing about, why not just ask them?

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 16, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Because kids - even good, trustworthy ones - lie to their parents. And even if you've raised the only ones who don't, they still could do something that they don't realize is unsafe so they don't think it's worth mentioning.

My kids aren't old enough where this is an issue yet, but it will be soon. I'm not sure how much access I'm going to need from them. I don't want to ask for too much, because that can drive them to create secret accounts, but I want to be able to see what they are doing in case they do things that are inappropriate or unsafe.

Posted by: dennis5 | December 16, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

"Raising disfunctional liars"?

Seems like someone is bringing a whole lot of baggage to the conversation.

Having passwords and access isn't about snooping on your kids; it's about snooping on idiot strangers and predators out there. Parents are more likely than their preteens to identify a 50-year old in his basement pretending to be a 12-year girl. Parents have more sophisticated IT knowledge to show their kids how easily their passwords and IDs can be hacked. I haven't the slightest interest in "snooping" on my kids' activities. Anyone out there who chooses to harm them or get to know them for illegal purposes had better know, though, that our kids are not unprotected online.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 16, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad my parents never new my passwords. Honestly, having copies of your daughter's emails sent to your account? Really? That makes me feel for your kids. What's next, are you going to ask to be CC'ed on all their emails to professors when they go off to college, or are you going to tap into that account and have it send copies to your account too?

Posted by: dajack02 | December 16, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't usually snoop, they sometimes don't have time to get on the computer to harvest their crops on Farmville, so I go on and do it for them. I don't actively look around, but I guess I could. Until they give me a good reason to be suspicious, I am doing them a favor, not trying to hover.

Posted by: pamsdds | December 16, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

It's not about trusting, or mistrusting, one's own children. It's about recognizing that they are *children* and they don't have adult judgement, yet. It's like holding a child's hand when crossing the street. We all (I hope!) do that until our kids have developed and matured enough that they can cross a street safely without handholding.

Posted by: SueMc | December 16, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

"Parents have more sophisticated IT knowledge"

That's funny.

Posted by: 06902 | December 16, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

secretly listening into phone conversations and reading diaries has everything to do with trust. Being involved with your kid's computer activities like harvesting crops and helping them set up up accounts/passwords is a different issue. What I am talking about here is those parents that demand full access to their children's electronic communications, thereby denying them any privacy, or even beyond, accessing their personal stuff without their consent or permission. As a parent, you have that right, but showing your kids that you don't trust them with matters of their own personal privacy is a good way to sabotage a trusting relationship and squeltch your kid's natural progress to maturity and adulthood.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 16, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

As a parent, you have that right, but showing your kids that you don't trust them with matters of their own personal privacy is a good way to sabotage a trusting relationship and squeltch your kid's natural progress to maturity and adulthood.

Yawn. Tough. Give me the passwords. I may never access them or I might.......that's called deterrence.

Posted by: pwaa | December 16, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

By the way having done some sneaking around, underage drinking and gone to a few parties I had no business being at, my blind trust of teenagers is at whine away about trust, you can have all you want,when you grow up and start paying 100 percent of your bills, til then it's stalag 13 without all the accents.....

Posted by: pwaa | December 16, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

"Parents have more sophisticated IT knowledge"

That's funny.

Posted by: 06902

Not so much, 06. It's no accident that your excerpt misses a key limitation: knowledge about IDs and security. Have you talked to any 8 year olds about online security lately? Ask them what their passwords are and marvel at the lack of alpha-numeric combinations. Granted, some parents are luddites, but all 8 year olds are naive about web security and the veracity of their chat partners.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 16, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

follow-up on whacky's privacy rant:

At work, I have no expectation of privacy because I am using my employer's hardware, software and because the employee manual tells me I don't. If I'm stupid enough to put private information in emails or store it on my desktop, it's not unfair or untrusting for them to counsel or fire me over it. Duh on me.

At home, my kids shouldn't have any expectation of privacy on the computer. It's my hardware, my software and we've told them exactly what we can look at, how, and why we'd choose to do so. If they send private information in an email or an a chat after knowing that, duh on them. They have cell phones. They have personal conversations. Frankly, the people I see get into trouble at work for violating e-policies are the ones who get confused about the scope of their permitted use of these tools.

Suggesting to your kids by implication that work-, school- or university-hosted email and chats are a good place to have private conversations that need to be PRIVATE isn't necessarily doing them any favors as they progress to maturity and adulthood.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 16, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

dennis5 is today’s Poster of the Day for stating perfectly the uncertainty parents feel when balancing between the need to safeguard their children while also providing them with a sense of trust.

Posted by: TheRealTruth | December 16, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

"We also have the capability to review his chats if we wanted to do so."

You do??? Really? On facebook? How do you do it? When I asked the help people on there how to go back to the chats I had - they told me they don't keep that history. TIA.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 16, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Interesting discussion on internet privacy for kids. How much, if at all, do you guys worry about "cyber-bullying" when you're deciding how much to monitor your kids' online activities?

Posted by: LizaBean | December 16, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Wacky, I agree with pwaa on this one. As my husband likes to say "This is a benevolent dictatorship, do not tick off the dictator".

I'm glad you have good kids Wacky, but when/if there is a circumstance where you suspect something is wrong, don't investigate and then something does go really wrong - you will always wonder if you could have stopped it. Trust is earned, and in time as kids grow and show they are trustworthy, things may change. For now, we trust but verify.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | December 16, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

pwaa says "when you grow up and start paying 100 percent of your bills..."

So what's the average age of today's citizen that achieves total independence from their parents? 21? 24? 26?

C'mon cheeky, are you seriously going to demand that your adult child give you the passwords to all his/her email and social networking accounts as long as he/she lives in your house or pay college tuition like pwaa suggests?

Control freak, Mental illness I call it, but if you pay the bills, you make the rules. And if you can prevent yor kid from indulging in an adult drink until age 21, you deserve the pwaa badge of supreme parenting.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 16, 2009 8:13 PM | Report abuse

whacky: i agree with pwaa, actually. i have said that when my kids are 18, they can decide what they want to do - and if they want to live under my roof...well, i can charge them rent, if i'm not happy with their decisions. well, i'd charge them rent regardless (unless they're in college) - and raise the rent if i'm unhappy. seriously. cause, well, it'll be my house.
But no, i wouldn't be checking their email, but before then, yes, i probably would want to have access.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 16, 2009 10:29 PM | Report abuse

sigh, oh you whacky little weasel. most people know the difference between a 10,13,16,17 year old and a 26 yr old man. if god forbid my kids live w me at 26, no i would not have their passwords but they would still have to follow some rules. pretty obvious but i guess you need it in writing......

Posted by: pwaa | December 17, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse


Our ability to review Facebook's, or any other site's, chat logs does not require Facebook's assistance. We have our own apps and tools for reviewing chat history. Consult your neighborhood server engineer. Really. (insert as many exclamation points as you prefer)

Posted by: anonfornow | December 17, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

This was a great posting. It is very difficult to figure out where to draw the line. Today, children are being exposed to social media at such a young age. I agree with you, they should make those relationships in person before relying on a social network even with parental guidance.

Posted by: TSAI1 | December 17, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company