As a parent to two teenagers and a pre-teen, the question to Facebook or not to Facebook has reared its ugly head. Too Facebook was starting to win out, but thanks to a new feature I can comfortably change my tune. Let me explain.
About three weeks ago, I took my son to a Bar Mitzvah where he met some friends from his old school in Jerusalem. During the conversation, someone suggested that they keep in touch on Facebook where they all had accounts. My son didn't say much, but I could see what was going on through his head. When we got home I heard the question that I had been dreading "Dad, why can't I get on Facebook?"
Indeed why not? Once again I explained to him that online living wasn't really living. Kids belong outside running around, reading books (yes, paper ones), playing football, you know, being kids in the "Father Knows Best" kind of way.
I talked to him about the virtues of not allowing recreational Internet access in our home or watching a television (don't faint). How we've given our kids a rare chance to improve their attention spans and not be influenced by all that advertising or content that's not in accordance with our values.
I cited statistics about the risks online, threats of cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying. I noted that teens online leave themselves exposed to contact with all sorts of people:
- 71% reported receiving messages online from someone they don’t know.
- 45% have been asked for personal information by someone they don’t know.
- 30% have considered meeting someone that they’ve only talked to online
- 14% have actually met a person face-to-face they they’ve only spoken to over the Internet (9% of 13-15s; 22% of 16-17s)
- and how better off he was by not getting online.
He just looked at me with this blank stare, like how stupid could his old man be, and then said "But I just want Facebook to talk with my friends not any of THAT stuff. You're keeping me from being friends with them!"
Ouch, and I thought it was the parents who were supposed to do the guilt thing. How could I be that unreasonable? After all, he's a responsible kid. Maybe it was time to let him use Facebook for communications?
As I was chewing this over the other day I opened a Facebook update to a birthday greetings (mine was on Wednesday) and made a discovery that rescued me from the jaws of decision-hood. Near the bottom of the message was a single sentence that read something along the lines of: Reply to this email to reply to the post. Well, I'll be! If that statement didn't make my day, I'm not quite sure what could have. By simply replying to emails, my son will be able to keep in touch with his friends by responding to e-mails from Outlook. No more Facebook wars for us. Peace will reign. At least until he'll ask me "Yeah, but how do I start a conversation with them on email?" Let's hope Facebook will solve that one soon enough.