As a Facebook user for the last 3.5 years or so and a family pastor, I have a number of concerns about Facebook. I have listed many of them here already–it is full of time wasting, self-centered, rubbish that has the potential to make us all dumber. I have also noted how Facebook, if used wisely, can help build community and enable people to connect in significant ways.
A great portion of my time and energy as a family pastor is devoted to youth of my church (7th through 12th grade) and their families. I disciple them, I lead trips with them, and teach a Wednesday night Bible study for them each week. So this post is really dedicated to asnwering the question as to whether youth/teenagers should be on Facebook. I will go ahead and say I think it very very unwise to let those younger than 7th grade on Facebook–there is just too much on Facebook that they don’t need to see and don’t have the maturity to filter through, that I do not think the potential reward out weighs the risk of allowing children (i.e. those younger than 7th grade) on Facebook.
That said, I am also hesitant to say that Facebook is a good idea for teenagers. Why? Because I know what teenagers do, many of them are my “friends” on facebook. I have a number of teenage friends on Facebook from serving in youth ministry in Texas and let me just say that I have seen what some of them parade on their Facebook profile and it is NOT edifying to the young Christian soul. That said, I also have a number of teenage “friends” on Facebook who love the Lord dearly and seem to be disciplined to use Facebook wisely and know how to navigate away from sexual immorality that is often displayed there.
I still have not directly answered the question that I have posed in the title of this post. I think that is because I cannot give a blanket-statement-answer to this question. Hopefully you know your teenage child well enough to know whether or not Facebook is a good idea. So without being so brash as to assume that I have the answer for your family on Facebook, instead, I just want to let you know what is going on in the teenage world on Facebook and make some suggestions that will help you as a parent think carefully about whether or not your child should be on Facebook.
Here is what you need to know about Facebook and the generation of teenagers that are using it:
1. Sexual Immorality is celebrated by many teenagers on Facebook. Facebook monitors the content of the pictures that are posted there for pornographic content, however that does not stop teenagers from posting all sorts of pictures that I would not want my teenage son browsing through. If you are seeking to protect your son from lust, know this–girls on Facebook are posting their Spring Break picture albums and their Drinking Party albums (you can guess what sort of things are celebrated in these albums–i.e. hooking up, getting wasted etc). If you have a teenage son, you need to think about letting him into an environment where sexual immorality is celebrated. If you have a teenage son, you need to know that there is a 99.99% chance that he struggles with lust on some level. I have no quantifiable research to back that up except 7 years of working with students in which I have held teenage boys accountable on lust issues.
2. Most teenagers that are on Facebook are on it without Parental supervision. How do I know this? Because I have read articles about it and the articles I have read report that many parents today think that monitoring their teens use of Facebook is an infringement on their privacy. So as you think about whether or not you will let your teen on Facebook, you need to know that most of the the teens your child will “friend” on Facebook are not being monitored by their parents as they use Facebook. This means that the language used and subjects broached on Facebook are likely to be unedifying to your child. If you are going to let your teen on Facebook you need to know that you are letting him or her into a world where they will be free to explore things that you probably aren’t comfortable with as a Christian parent. And yes, you cannot protect them forever and they need to learn how to live in the world and not be of it but is the best way to learn that lesson by giving teens uninhibited internet access? . . . I am not sure about that.
3. Facebook is a window to many many other things. Facebook is no longer a closed community. It used to be a rather simple place where you “friended” people then messaged them and wrote on each other’s walls. It seemed to be purely social. That is no longer the case. Facebook is more of a business than ever before. Much of what is advertized on Facebook are not things that I would want my teenage son to see. Furthermore, teenagers are using Facebook post links to websites that I would not want my teenage son to go to.
So here are some suggestions concerning Facebook:
1. As soon as your child begins to ask to join Facebook, think about setting a date at which time you will allow them to do so. This is up to you, but I think if you are clear from the get-go you will avoid problems down the road. If you say they can join at 18, then they won’t keep pestering you about it. If you say they can join when they start high school, then they will know that they cannot join until then. I can’t set this time for you because I don’t know your child and your family. Obviously we cannot protect our children from the things of the world forever, but I think the key is to protect them from the things of the world while you can, especially when they are particularly vulnerable (i.e. their teen years). Every child, however is different, so again, I can’t set a date for you, I just want to encourage you to protect them while you can!
2. If your child has Facebook, as long as they are in your house, they will use Facebook on your computer and your internet service and you have the right to shut it off at any point. If you child has his or her own computer in their room, it is still your computer because they are using it in your house on your internet service. Don’t let your child think that they have a right to privacy on the web and don’t let them think that they have some inherent right to use a social network like Facebook. Its your house and your job as a parent to do everything you can to help your child seek the Lord and not fall slave to the things of the world that are so often celebrated on Facebook. If Facebook becomes something that draws your child away from the LORD, pull the plug, take away the computer, do whatever it takes to protect your child from sin.
3. If your child is on Facebook, know their username and password. I suggest monitoring everything they do on Facebook. You want to know who your child’s real-life friends are don’t you? You wouldn’t give them the privacy to hang out with drunkards, druggies, and sexually immoral people in real life would you? Then why would you allow them uninhibited access to something like Faecbook and allow them to connect with such people online?
This reminds me of something one of my professors in seminary said about children and cell phones, I think it applies to the world of Facebook too:
. . . if your child does have a cellphone, this means you have a cellphone. Your responsibility is to know about every call, and the identity of every person text-messaging your son or daughter. You don’t have time to monitor this? Then you don’t have time for your child to have a cell phone.
Similarly, I think if you don’t have time to monitor what your child is doing on Facebook, then you don’t have time for your child to be on Facebook. I fear, as Albert Mohler has warned, that American culture has “shifted authority from parents to teenagers.” Indeed, “how can a concerned and loving parent not follow their teenager’s online activities?” If your child has a cell phone, its your cell phone right? Similarly, if your child has a Facebook, its yours too and you are responsible to make sure that it is not destroying your child’s soul. If it is, while their under your roof, take action.
Along with Dr. Mohler, I too fear that “the emergence of an online teen community means that teenagers now have a new and powerful mechanism for retreating into an adolescent-only world, cut off from adult contact and supervision” and I am not sure that such a retreat fits with the Lord’s plan for discipleship in the home (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).
I do not intend to tell any parents exactly how they should be raising their children. I just want parents to know the facts about Facebook and encourage them to be involved in their teens lives and to shepherd their hearts toward Christ rather than the things of the world. I also hope this post has gently warned parents against the naivete of assuming that your child is using the internet with completely pure motives–“no one is righteous, no not one” and the “heart is decietful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Romans 3:10; Jeremiah 17:9).