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Facebook, the social network that was created as a collegiate exclusive site, has become widely used by teens and preteens.  The site requires users to be 13 years of age or older, but the policy is difficult to uphold and enforce.  Research by Consumer Reports Magazine shows that as of 2011, 7.5 million U.S. users were under the age of 13.  Slightly more than 5 million of those were under the age of 10.  The stats raise the questions, should preteens be using Facebook?

The answers to that question will be different for every parent.  I’m not trying to answer that question for parents, but my fear is that we are not giving it as much thought, as it deserves.  Open communication is always the key to dealing with these issues.  Here are some thoughts that we can encourage parents to consider…some good and some bad:

1. Rules are Rules
The Facebook user agreement states “You will not use Facebook if you are under the age of 13.”  If preteens are allowed to register a profile on the site, then a message is sent that says breaking the rules is ok when it’s something you really want.  While this may seem innocent, it does make future conversations about “required ages” difficult.  If it is ok to lie about age at 13, then why wouldn’t it be ok at 16, 18, or 21?

2. Controlled Environment
Many parents will allow their preteen to create a Facebook profile because the site is a semi-controllable environment.  They can limit the visibility of their child’s profile, as well as reject unknown friend requests.  This feature is a better option than allowing children to freely surf the Internet unsupervised.  There are still risks involved, but if properly managed, Facebook may be a safe alternative to other Internet usage.

3. Increased Risk
Preteens on Facebook are at an increased risk for harmful behaviors.  First, there is a risk of privacy when a profile is created.  Their pictures, daily schedules, school locations, and friends are posted and seen by others.  To avoid this risk, it is important for profiles to be set to visibility by friends only.  Even with the additional security, digital relationships show signs of increased aggressiveness, such as bullying, harassment, and stalking.  The research by Consumer Reports found that 1 million children were subjected to harassment, threats, and other forms of cyber-bullying in the past year.  Preteens may find it difficult to deal with these types of behaviors, especially if they are cannot talk to parents about the issues because they are on Facebook without permission.

4. Increased influence
While most of the stats show an increase of negative influence on preteens through Facebook, the opposite might also be plausible.  Many ministries are finding ways to use social networking to better connect with their congregation, student ministries included.  The 1 to 2 hours per week of influence that the church once had can be expanded to a much greater impact through social networking.  It can promote relationships with other believers, connect students to Scripture on a daily basis, and give students a platform to talk about life issues with ministry leaders or peers.  We have found that this is especially helpful when students attend church together but do not attend the same schools.  It is a way for those students on different campuses to connect with their church friends throughout the week.  The key for parents is to check on their preteen’s use of Facebook to make sure that the influences and interactions are positive for the child.  Sadly, according to Consumer Reports, only 18% made their child a Facebook friend or checked their Facebook use regularly. 

Should a preteen be on Facebook?  This is a tough question.  We know that they’re asking, and parents are under a lot of pressure to respond.  They need help processing the decision and they need tools to help with the communication with their child.  As a preteen leader, I don’t see it as my job to make the decision for the parents.  My role is to equip them and partner with them in making the best out of whatever decision they make.

How are you equipping parents to make the touch decisions?

How do you help parents feel prepared to make the decision about Facebook or other social networks?

 

Yesterday’s post was about the issue of pornography in the life of a preteen.  It is a growing issue that churches need to be addressing with parents to better equip them for that battle.  The post generated some requests for resources and strategies, so I’m going to do my best.   I know that there are lots of helpful articles and sites out there, so I encourage you to search.  My advice is simple, but I feel like it is effective.

1. Make it Public
A huge step towards protection for families is to move all computers to the family room.  Usage of computers behind closed doors is always dangerous, for adults and kids.  By moving usage to a more visible place, you will be able to monitor the how much time your kids spend on the Internet and the sites they are visiting.  This goes for mobile devices as well.  Parents don’t think of these devices, but they are becoming the primary source of pornographic material for kids.  Get together as a family and set some rules for the time and place of computer use. 

2. Set Boundaries
It is important that you monitor the use of computers, but that’s still not enough.  Things still happen.  When and if they do, don’t you want to know about it?  Set up some protection by installing Internet software on your computers.  It’s pretty amazing how far some of these programs have come over the years.  They will now block inappropriate movie clips, inappropriate Youtube videos, websites, and Internet searches.  Some great resources for this are X3 Watch Pro, Safe Eyes, or Covenant Eyes.  There are some free versions of these programs, but the few dollars a month are worth the extra protection, which includes mobile devices. It is also advisable to block known “problem sites” in your internet options.  By adding such sites to a blocked list, you can ensure that no user will access the site content.

If you’re a Mac user, there is also a way to set a “white list” in your Internet settings.  If you assign your child a user account, then you can make a list of websites that they are allowed to visit, and only those sites will be accessible.  I’m sure that there is a similar feature in Windows.

3. Communicate
With all the protection and boundaries set, it’s still imperative that you communicate.  Keep an open line of communication with your child.  Bring up the issue of pornography and ask if they have experienced any of the images.  It may be necessary to get further help if they have already been exposed to inappropriate material.  Make sure that the communication between you and your child is constant.  There is no such thing as over-communicating.  Keep talking to your child and assuring them that they can talk to you if they have received pornographic material on their computer or phone.

Another great resource for preteens are the books, Parenting Today’s Adolescent and So You’re about to be a Teenager by Dennis and Barbara Rainey.

I’ve been looking through mounds of research on Generation Z, which encompasses pretty much all of the current participants in children’s and student ministries.  The research on this age group is fascinating and jaw-dropping.  I’m going to try to blog more on this in the coming posts.  But that’s another day.  Today is a fun, interactive day.  

As we talked about this research, my wife and I began to think about the things from our childhood that our daughter will never experience. This led to the top 5 things that a preteen will never experience.  Feel free to comment and add others that you think of.  I’m working on a prize for the best comment, so make ’em good!

Top 5 things that a preteen will never experience

Preteens will never have to…

#1–Wait a week to see pictures because the film needs to be developed
Remember dropping off a canister of film and coming back a week later to find photos that you had taken 9 months before.  Remember taking the picture with you 8 lb camera and thinking everything looked great only to find out after “development” that everyone’s eyes were closed.  Or worse, remember opening the back of the camera before rewinding the film and losing everything…Epic Fail!

#2–Get information for school projects from Britannica, World Book, or Funk and Wagnall’s
Come on, you remember encyclopedias. I recall that all my school projects were on eskimos, the Emancipation Proclamation, England, volcanoes, Venus, or Venezuela.  Why?  Because my older brother and sister had lost every volume except “E” and “V” of our Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia set.

#3–Purchase their favorite music on something called a cassette tape
My 16 year-old nephew just got a 1994 GMC Sierra.  This truck baffled him because it had a tape deck.  The poor kid is going to miss out on the devastation of having your favorite tape eaten by the cassette player.  (Side note: Sony stopped the manufacturing of the Sony Cassette Walkman because of the rise in digital downloads of music.  When did they catch on and stop production? OCTOBER 2010!)

#4–Turn on the computer, connect to the World Wide Web, go eat dinner with the family, and return an hour later to find that it is still dialing-up a connection
If you lived through dial-up then you probably can still hear the screech and ping of your dial up connection.  If you are one of the fortunate ones and happen to live in California, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island–you can still get unlimited free access through a dialup connection.  Well…what are you waiting for?  Go sign up for that free internet! 

#5–Be Kind and Rewind
Long gone are the days of penalties and fines for not rewinding the 7⅜” × 4″ × 1″ plastic box known as the VHS Cassette.  Also long gone are the days of sitting in the movie rental parking lot whittling off the tip of your finger as you try to avoid the 25 cent fine by manually rewinding. 

So there is our top 5.  I’m sure there are some other great ones.  Comment below and share your memory of the past that preteens will never experience!

Walkman-80s