Your Life And Privacy
About two months ago, my daughter turned 15. She reached the big day without something most 15- year olds have: a Facebook account.
I spend a good deal of my time thinking about privacy and issues relating to the Internet. I’ve written Internet safety trainings and materials advising parents how to protect themselves and their children online. I’ve educated on the perils of Internet scams from spam to spyware. I’ve urged parents to be vigilant when it comes to their kids and the Internet.
Along the way, I made sure to educate my own daughter about online perils. When the subject of Facebook came up, I made it clear that being a member of a social networking site comes with plenty of issues.
My daughter, in turn, preached the gospel to her cousins about what a time-waster Facebook was. She told a horror story about the schoolmate whose account had been infiltrated by a former friend, who had sent out bullying messages from the account.
She recounted stories of runaways, kids who had been friended by online predators and lured to their demise. When she discovered that a relative had posted photos of herself and her brother on the relative’s Facebook page, she demanded that the photos be removed.
My daughter never asked, even once, about having a Facebook. Apparently I had done a good job – perhaps too good.
In sixth grade my daughter started a new school. The transition was difficult; she did not know anybody there when she started. She sorely missed her lower school friends, like the little girl who wore bunny ears every day from kindergarten through third grade, and the boy with whom she regularly arm-wrestled at lunch.
The first two years, she barely made new friends. It was a painful time.
I knew that many of her old friends, and most kids at her new school had Facebook accounts and socialized through the site, although most of them were years shy of Facebook’s age requirement. (Facebook has an age floor to avoid being subject to a federal law that imposes requirements on websites geared to children under 13). My daughter didn’t ask for a Facebook page then, and I didn’t suggest it.
In retrospect, maybe I should have. At 11 years of age, my daughter was a good student and mature for her age. I could have helped her protect herself with restricted privacy settings; made sure she understood that anything she posted, including photos, could be copied and sent out to anybody on the Internet; cautioned her to have a strong password that she did not share with anybody (except maybe me).
While technically I might have aided and abetted the violation of federal law, enabling my daughter to have access to Facebook could have eased the social isolation she was experiencing. Instead, I probably encouraged it, and contributed to a difficult transition.
Today, my daughter is popular, happy and well-adjusted. True, she accomplished this without Facebook. But a couple of weeks back, she asked if she could have a Facebook account. I said yes.
Frankly, I was almost relieved that she had asked. And while I intend to be vigilant, I’ve taught her well. More importantly, I trust her.