Friday, June 30, 2017

When Should a Student (be Allowed to) Get Facebook?

Two different questions have been on my mind recently.


When should a student get Facebook?

I recall asking my sixth-grade nephew once if he had Facebook. “I don’t need it,” he responded.

That threw me off.

Students at my former school obtained a smartphone and/or an iPad by mid-elementary, and there’s certainly a different age requirement than 13 in China. I say this because a lot of elementary students already have WeChat or QQ (social media platforms with chats, posts, and so much more). I didn’t even stop to consider how one of my 6th graders recently asked to add me on Facebook. Reflecting on all of that had led me to wrongfully assume that every child I met as young as mid-elementary would desire to connect via social media. Low and behold, every child’s life and context are different. When a child actually wants to get Facebook more than likely varies on lots of factors, many of which we as outsiders to their lives may not know about. (For more on ways we may misunderstand teens and technology, please check out danah boyd’s It’s Complicated.)

I didn’t think of the fact that my nephew was under 13 years old when I asked him either. Thankfully I haven’t met, heard of, or needed to report anyone under 13 using Facebook. This brought me to the following question…
When should a student be allowed to get Facebook?

Little did I know about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a law passed in 1998 to protect children under 13 from having their personal information available. Thus, Facebook’s age requirement is 13. Most other apps/sites have the same condition while some range lower or higher.

Common Sense Media has much to say about protection and guidelines for social media, along with what is going on at age 13 developmentally. Parents and teachers alike should take heed and stay informed. This will help when striving to understand what pre-teens are going through. It should be strongly suggested for the parent as well to be involved in the child’s life during this time since children lying about how old they are may put peers at risk. (Side note: This would be a great time for adults to also examine our social media habits and behaviors because, as I have discovered in parenting and teaching, I and other adults still have some maturing to do too. Children are NOT alone in this manner.)

All of that makes sense while there are certainly “teachable moments” to be learned earlier in life, including those for a six year-old on Snapchat. But…can not the parent help guide the child in using social media such as Facebook before reaching the age of 13? Can the parent learn from the child? I’m not prompting you to push social media on to your child and lie about his/her age. (There are other ways to justify looking at your phone more than your child.) Don’t misinterpret that. What I’m urging is that we as adults be ready to understand the child, listen to his desires, and most importantly, steer him in the moral way to live before he is 13. The life the child lives offline will undoubtedly determine who he is online.


  1. I recall asking my sixth-grade nephew once if he had Facebook. “I don’t need it,” he responded.

    As a 7th grade middle school Health teacher I have asked similar questions of my students regarding their Social Health. They sometimes respond by admitting they have a Facebook account but more often they say they don't need one. Just like your 6th grade nephew they have found "better" ways to stay in touch with their peers than through Facebook. The apps that are most likely to be mentioned are things like SnapChat, Instagram, Twitter, kik, and Vine. Regardless of the age restrictions, a majority of my 7th grade students will admit to using these tools to stay in touch with their digital community. I agree with you Daniel that it is very important for parents to have a much larger role in educating their pre-teens about safe and responsible use of technology.

    1. Interesting. I hadn't considered Social Health. Makes sense! And these "better" ways have not only included by digital means. I know some kids that have relationships with neighbors and friends, and they rely on those possibly more than their apps. If the kids don't desire the tech, do we place it upon them?

  2. That's a great perspective. I feel mixed on this. I haven't let my kids use social media (even though they can with parental permission). However, my friend AJ lets his kids use SnapChat because he thinks they should be developing digital citizenship at a young age.

    1. I think that's where I'm at too (since our oldest is nearing 3 years old. I'd like to guide and develop kids before 13, but the question is how. Other than the child's maturity and influences, what else should be taken into consideration?

  3. Great points Daniel and John. This is a fascinating topic for me and I talk with kids about it all the time at school. One thing that has struck me is that there are kids who tell me they don't have time for social media, because they are so involved with their club soccer team, or taking care of younger siblings, etc. I think that's one thing I strive for as a parent is to give my kids plenty of other worthwhile activities that social media isn't their only outlet for gathering with friends.

    I LOVE Danah Boyd's book (just recommended it to someone yesterday). I surveyed over 400 of my students about their social media habits and about 75% said they'd rather spend face-to-face time with friends than digitally. They do things digitally because it's often the only way we let them.

    For my own kids (who are all 5 and under), as they grow, I think I'll prefer to keep them off social media for a while because I want them to know who they are individually before they cultivate that public persona. I want the concept of sharing things with the world to be something they choose when they have a concept of what "sharing with the world" actually means.