HERE'S A SHOCKER: Facebook, Inc. is exploring ways to include the under 13 set. As if they're not already there, clogging up our news feeds with their Muzy collages and status updates about dogs that play drums.
According to a recent study by MinorMonitor, a Facebook tracking software company, 38 percent of the 7.5 million kids on Facebook are under 13 anyway, meaning that they lied about their age to get past the user agreement. While their parents seem to be fine with this chicanery, the idea of officially opening up Facebook up to "tweens" (ages 10 to 12, not yet ready for the big teenage pants, yet rocking all the ‘tude) has people freaking out.
What everyone needs to understand is that Facebook might the best thing that ever happened to parents.
Yes, there is the general wisdom that trying to be your kid's friend (as opposed to the time-tested role of benevolent dictator) is the most direct route to visiting them in juvie or watching them do tequila shots off of someone's tattooed thigh on reality TV. But when it comes to finding out what's going on in the sullen life of American tweenagers, friending them on Facebook is almost as good as planting a microchip in their head.
Your kid's wall collates every random thought posted, every inappropriate SocialCam video watched, every friend request accepted—a well-paid babysitter couldn't keep better tabs. Have your trusted adult posse add friend requests and you've got a whole social media village doing cyber-sitting duty.
Finding effective tactics to discipline today's tween while keeping DFACS out of your life can be a challenge. Timeouts ran aground right around the time they started using the big potty. Confiscating their cell phone only works until you need to text them a reminder about their dentist appointment this afternoon. Spanking is out of the question, primarily because they got bigger than you over the past year.
The outdated (and, ahem, sexist) threat of "wait ‘til your father gets home!" lost its punch a generation ago. But thanks to Facebook, any parent can send a Howler right from her own smartphone to their smart-ass.
The potential for disciplining kids via Facebook has gained ground ever since Tommy Jordan filmed himself pumping nine bullets into his daughter's laptop after losing patience with her disrespectful status updates. The 8-minute video went batscat viral this spring with 27 million Youtube hits and earned Jordan the "Best Parent EVER" crown by those also fed up with their own rude and selectively-deaf spawn.
Jordan was soon joined in the radical parenting pantheon by Denise Abbott, the Ohio mom who made news when she replaced her smack-talking 13 year-old's Facebook profile picture with a photo of the girl with a red X plastered over her mouth.
Pundits criticized their extreme harshness, but both parents have stood by their actions, saying their kids' behavior has finally shifted towards the positive after being called out where their peers (and the rest of the world) could see it. Maybe there's something to be said for the efficacy of public disgrace. More importantly, these examples show the power that Facebook wields for parents, not just in the extreme but as a place to meet across the great divide between "grown-up" and "trying to get there but I don't need your help because I already know everything."
Maybe Facebook parenting can work pre-emptively, too. Last week, after reading up on the accessibility of legal mood enhancers like bath salts and other nasty brain melting crap, a Savannah father posted a long warning about the dangers of drugs on his middle school-aged son's Facebook wall. (Bath salts are illegal in Georgia but are still available online.)
Not that he suspected his mostly well-behaved son of a thing. But this dad remembers that summer break is the time when kids can go wrong, drawing on his own wild years and and unfortunate stories of friends who didn't survive them. He wanted to deliver a cautionary paternal lecture, but knew it would be met with prolonged eye-rolling. So he took it to his son's front page-and accompanied it with video links.
Unlike Laptop Dad and X-Mouth Mom, Drug Rant Papa didn't intend for his public "Just Say No" edict to be a punishment or incite humiliation. But like them, he knew his best bet of making his message stick was to put it where his boy and his friends would see it—even if it meant opening himself up to criticism from other parents and/or branded a total dork.
As it turns out, the post opened up a frank conversation about drugs and other dangers of the world between father and son where before there had only been grunting. Maybe the kid actually tuned in, or at the very least will be so scarred from the parental oversharing that it'll be a decade before he'll even crack a beer.
Though it was barely a germ in the world of viral memes, the post was shared from here to California and had a community buzzing for a minute. Many of the kid's elders left approving comments, but others bristled at the publicness of the rant. Facebook parenting isn't for everyone. But this dad says he'd do it again.
How do I know so much? Because I'm married to the guy. Would I have handled the inevitable "drug talk" with our tween the same way? Nah, I'm more apt to trap him for a nice long chat on the drive to the beach.
But I'm glad the father of my children is willing to risk judgment to do whatever it takes to get through to his kid—on Facebook or anywhere else. Much respect for any dad who is.
Happy Father's Day to all of you.
Meanwhile, I'm waiting with bated breath for his sex talk post.