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When my grandmother was alive and I lived far away, I quickly learned that all she really wanted was a phone call or a visit. I could skip the holiday or birthday scarf, book or other gift. Instead, we had a regular phone schedule that we both enjoyed. (I am particularly missing her this election since she closely watched politics and always had something interesting to say).It turns out that this was a very healthy habit. AARP recently published an article and infographic, Alone and At Risk, that suggests that social isolation is a major risk factor for aging adults. The article comments, ”Research shows that social detachment — having few close relationships — is as bad for you as smoking and worse than obesity.”

The article then explored why seniors are experiencing social isolation by conducting a survey. The two top reasons by far were “Family and friends live too far away” (48% of respondents) and “Family and friends are too busy” (42%). I was surprised that so many seniors felt disconnected from their families, especially given all the technologies available today.

However, it made me wonder if the problem somehow had it’s roots in the response ‘Family and friends too busy.’ When I think about all the activities I do with my kids, both during the week and the weekend, it really is challenging to find time to make a call or set up Facetime or Skype. One possible way to help seniors and their families become more connected is to focus on asynchronous communication. For example, DoubleScoop, Facebook, and even plain old email don’t require both grandparents and their families to be available at the same time. This might in part explain the growth of seniors using Facebook. For grandparents with grandkids too young for Facebook or email, DoubleScoop and BloggleBeans are fun, new ways to connect them when they have a free moment.

Facebook for kids? Four reasons my daughter won’t be joining.

There’s been a lot reported this week about Facebook possibly allowing kids under the age of 13 to join. The news raises a lot of interesting questions, and certainly had me thinking about whether I would let my 8-year old girl sign up.

The most compelling reason I read encouraging me to get her started was to start to ‘learn’ about using social media responsibly. Facebook, and all social media, is a fact of life, and the best course of action is to equip her to deal with the realities of our technology-driven world. A runner-up was Chicago Tribune writer Scott Kleinberg’s take that “Facebook should use its social networking monster of a platform as a way to get kids excited about homework and in a way that makes Facebook as necessary as a textbook. It should be the de facto place for teachers, parents and kids to go to learn with and from each other.”

But ultimately, the points against introducing young kids to social media are winning me over. Here are some of the insights that really got my attention:

1. My daughter simply isn’t developmentally ready to group-share online. Sarah Fernandez, a contributor to Parentables.com, writes “Most kids under age 13 are trying to figure out how to interact in face to face social situations still, and it’s important that they build those skills and don’t bury themselves in the computer to socialize.” My own child is still learning how to navigate group play-dates, let alone a social network. Interestingly, during the last year, she increasingly asks ‘can we just have one family over?’, reminding me how she still struggles with groups of 3 or more girls at the same time. Imagine a social network.

2. I want to control the ads my daughter sees. At least a little. Several articles have mentioned that allowing younger kids to join will increase the marketing base of Facebook. I can’t imagine that Facebook will block marketing messages and external links to kids. And what Facebook and the marketing world thinks is appropriate for my 8-year old might be very different than what I think is appropriate. James Steyer of Common Sense Media commented in an article in USA TODAY that “Big tobacco was very, very smart in trying to create brand loyalty starting at the very earliest possible age. That’s why they created Joe Camel. We shouldn’t be trying to build brand loyalty among 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds.” I tend to agree.

3. Maybe I don’t want to share my space on Facebook. Heather Chapman, Special to CNN, hit home when she wrote “Speaking of playgrounds: Facebook is mine. I connect with adult friends on there, and sometimes we say things that aren’t appropriate for kids. I don’t want my son to see my name tagged in a picture that says “It’s wine o’ clock somewhere!” and I wonder how much of a barrier I could put between my account and his if they’re linked.” I actually like Facebook, and appreciate the ability to keep in touch with faraway friends. But I admit how I use Facebook would probably change if my daughter and I became ‘friends.’

4. I don’t want to add more ‘helicoptering’ to my to-do list! Several people commented that an advantage to linking kids’ accounts to parents is that parents would be able to monitor everything the child has said, as well as patrol their ‘friends.’ As a mom, this sounds like a lot more work. Teens are sending 80 texts a day already, so how many Facebook posts would that be for me glance over? I also don’t like the idea of placing my child in a situation where I have to snoop on her constantly.

Social media is a part of our lives. But the question for me isn’t whether or not my daughter should be on Facebook, but when. And younger than 13 just sounds too young for me. Until then, she can call her friends, use Skype or snail mail with her grandparents, or, dare I suggest, just go out and play.


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