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Facebook Lowers the Required Age for Public Posts

By Stacey Ross

"Kids will be kids!" is a term often used that reflects adults coping with the reality that minors will find ways to test the boundaries. Well, in some cases, kids end up getting their way, as they have with Facebook lately! Kids ages 13 - 17 will now be part of the "big kids" party – at least when it comes to posting and engaging publicly.

Previously, teens who used Facebook were only able to post content for the eyes of their friends, friends of friends, and custom groups, such as "family." Presently, they have the option of sharing their posts publicly (with anyone) on Facebook, just like users 18 and older have been doing.

Facebook shares: "Teens are among the savviest people using of social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard." Likewise they shared in a post: "While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social media services."

Two sides to the coin

If it were only that simple! Discussions include pros and cons regarding how much freedom teens should have online, the issue of parental filters, alerts, supervision, and so on. The comfort level of parents in regards to the lower age required for teens to post publicly on Facebook will determine how they might wish to intervene or monitor their kids. Take a look at the arguments on both sides of the coin, and assume I am just personifying two passionate people who are just civilly trying (somewhat fairly) to hash it out!

Pro - Teens should have the choice of a larger audience.

Children ages 13- 17 years-old who are up to social good and who play it safe now have easy access to make more of a global difference. Just like Facebook suggests: Jeremy helps the hungry; Alison encourages charity runs; Anne-Marie loves talking movies and bringing in a greater audience.  Their parents are involved and celebrate that they are playing things safe, while at the same time their teens are building a larger network in regards to something they are passionate about.

Con - This just puts them more in harm's way.

As if kids are not taking enough risks online! About half of online child sexual exploitation now occurs on social networks and around 70 percent of children have suffered from some form of online bullying. We do not need to embrace reality to the extent that kids will have their posts in mainstream news feeds. Many feel uncomfortable that their kids are broadcasting their images and whereabouts to their best few hundred friends as it is, let alone to potentially millions of strangers.

Pro - Teens are building the online skills necessary in today's age.

Children gain maturity and build greater social skills and self-esteem when they can learn to not only share what they are most proud of, but also to connect with a growing audience that finds common interests and even life-changing causes. Social media and Facebook are good platforms for teens to evolve in such areas.

Con - Teens can build the same skills but in a smaller, safer environment.

Teens by nature tend to expose more information that can compromise them. Regrets and deleted messages after inevitable faux pas might be too late. Most teens are not prepared for such responsibility, as they are still kids! We are opening up a can of worms!

Pro - Advertisers and marketers gain more insight.

Companies benefit by collecting data for advertisers and marketing companies. Twitter, Tumblr and Last.fm are other platforms that allow teens to post publicly; Facebook wants to hold on to the teen demographic as well, so for them this is a big plus. They want to keep up with the other competing social networks, build new revenue streams, and profit off of their users! Wouldn't you?

Con - Advertisers and Marketers might not have teens' best interests in mind.

Many have concerns about privacy as well as the overall well-being of children. One of my peers mentioned that Facebook and other platforms have the same strategies in mind used by Big Tobacco – those types of ads that appeal to young people and try to hook the young ones in early. The earlier the catch, the stronger the brand loyalty – or something like that.

Imagine your daughter wanted her 100 friends to join her pool party over the weekend and now 6,000 will know your 16 year-olds whereabouts! Oopsies! Well, a recent Columbia University study of 65 college students found that 94 percent were sharing personal information on Facebook and oh, information which they had not intended to make public! Meanwhile, since your kids are not yet adults, their actions/announcements are 100% your responsibility.

Pro - Kids are more responsible and productive online than we give them credit for.

Texting, gaming, and social media have already become a big part of our lives. The focus now should be about staying safe and responsible. But teens can also do even greater things with it and have more leverage to build themselves up both personally and scholastically. Parents should still monitor their posts, but also realize that if their babies are old enough to have accounts, they should be old enough to go public. Do they ever walk home from school alone, or for that matter drive a vehicle? Answer: Yes! Can parents take precautions with modern day technology if they are concerned? Answer: Yes!

Con - Kids lack the maturity and discretion that adults have, or have the right to not have!

"They're hitting kids from a neurological weak spot. Kids don't have the same kind of impulse control that adults do," said Emily Bazelon, a journalist and author of the book Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. "It's risky to have teenagers posting publicly... The kids who might be the most likely to do that might not have the best judgment about what they post."

Pro - Teens become more sensitive communicators.

Opening up to a larger audience, teens build empathy and understanding skills, which we could use more of in the real world.

Con - Kids become more self-absorbed the more they post online.

Extended time on Facebook actually tends to demonstrate that teens are becoming more image-conscious and even more narcissistic as they evolve in this platform. This is less about encouraging public activism and more about generating sales and profit!

What say you?

What are your thoughts or concerns? Controversial or not, these times are a-changing. We all know that sexual exploitation and online bullying are a risk, but we also know that kids who are not digitally connected are at a disadvantage.

Just one more thing on the modern day parent's plate that stares us in the eyes, begging us to make appropriate choices pertaining to the welfare of our minors.

Meanwhile, if I see your Johnny posting after midnight, I will ping you in case you are not "friends" with him yet. Oh, parenthood...

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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