Phones, Facebook, and Your Family: Grappling with Social Media Overload

Texting on a keyboard phone

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From tweeting about what you ate for breakfast to posting pictures of your dinner on Facebook, social networking has become an integral part of the way we interact. However, things get sticky when kids want to get in on the action.

According to Consumer Reports, about 7.5 million Facebook users are younger than 13, the legal age to use Facebook.  In a recent article from NPR, one dad struggles to decide if he should allow his 12-year-old son to get a Facebook account. Many of the child’s friends use Facebook, and the father wants his son to gain skills socializing online. However, there are just as many risks as benefits when kids join the world of social media. Cyberbullying, privacy, predators, distractions from homework, and even “facebook depression” all make social networking sites risky for youth, according to an article from WebMD.

So, what happens when technology-obsessed kids are forced to log-off Facebook chat and even turn off their cell phones? In the New York Times “Motherlode” blog, guest poster ML Nichols gives a hilarious account of her family’s one-week hiatus from technology during a family vacation. Before her experiment, Nichols describes her family this way:

“Flying thumbs dancing on metal from the moment they wake up and 16 eyeballs fixated on two cousins’ smartphone-Facebook screens. Basic conversation replaced by beeps and buzzes. Minds tuned in anywhere but where they need to be: amid sun, sand and surf.”

Even though the first few days were challenging for both kids and parents, Nichols writes that their brief escape from phones and Facebook had a profound effect on her children. Instead of burying their heads in their screens, her kids read novels, played in the ocean, and came up with creative activities to entertain themselves. “I was in heaven,” Nichols writes. Even though she got the family vacation she wanted, the end of her post proves that it’s difficult to avoid technology forever.

What do you think about kids and social networking? Does seeing an 11-year-old with an iPhone make you groan? Should 12-year-olds be allowed to use Facebook? Are people needlessly panicking about children’s social media use? Let us know!

Navigating the world of social networking and technology with your child can be tricky. If you’d like more information about this topic, and tips on how to approach technology with your kids, check out our online parent resource center, where you can find factsheets and a radio show on Unplugging With Your Child. Non-profit advocacy group Commonsense Media also has a ton of great tips for parents on how to make sure children stay safe online.

-Jenna Temkin