Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Facebook Might Be Good for Tweens...

Among parents, social networking sites have a bad name. Parents fear that teens will be posting promiscuous photos of themselves or instant messaging inappropriate comments without parental supervision. And, I suppose, some are.


But I also think that Facebook offers opportunities that are very helpful to early teens who are trying to establish personal identity.

Tweens are those stuck in the middle between childhood and adulthood. They are too old for Santa and too young to drive. They both love and disdain their parents. They might still cuddle stuffed animals, even while trying on eyeliner. Tweens get themselves into trouble with these stretching moments. Some begin swearing excessively – trying to show that they are older, more mature, not just a kid. They get more heavily invested in their peer group than ever before. They step up school activities and spend time alone, in their rooms, on the computer.

Emotionally, tweens are needy. They are faced with the insecurities of changing bodies and hormones and emotions. They are exploring relationships, trying to feel validated by the opposite sex. Physically, they are experiencing enormous changes and sometimes get stuck in awkward phases that seem to go on forever.

For these reasons and more, I’ve been reconsidering the role social media plays for this group. Here are a few advantages that I’ve noted:

1) It gives them a safe place to vent. A tween I am "friends" with on facebook recently changed her status update. She posted that she “didn’t care anymore.” Immediately, she was given responses from her peers. They asked her what was wrong. She filled them in. As it turns out – she was just venting – trying to express the emotions that were bottled up inside of her from a tough day. At this age, pre-teens often feel like they cannot talk to parents. They won’t talk to teachers. Sometimes, in the pressures of school, they can’t even talk to friends. Facebook offers a place where they do feel free to say exactly what is on their minds.

2) It allows them to explore their own identity. Facebook asks users what we like and don’t like. My daughter “likes” Cadbury Cream Eggs. As she checks off her personal preferences, she is establishing who she is an individual. She is taking one step out there – into the world – to say “hey – this is who I am, not who my parents are.” While this self promotion can take a bad turn, it can also start to make a teenager think about who she or he is.

3) It gives parents and older adults a window into their private life. Now, this point is controversial. A colleague told me that she wouldn’t want to have to go to Facebook to see how her son is doing. True. But it is also true that, at this age, kids tend to shut down many avenues of communication with their parents. For the older generation, a peek into a child’s diary was the only way to truly see how their child was faring. There is a classic episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where the mother tells how she used to look in Ray’s diary. Both parent and child are hurt by it. Unlike peeking under a mattress or going through desk drawers, friending your child on Facebook allows you to see the conversations between your child and his friends. While my daughter does not really like me to post on her page, she is comfortable with me messaging her privately or viewing it. In fact, this was a condition of her having a Facebook page. As she has been on Facebook for the past few months, I also like the idea that my daughter has friended and learned to interact with adults in her life in this setting. She sees that they value her and that her community is broader than 7th grade.

Is Facebook without dangers? No. As parents, we all share concerns about privacy settings and the addictive nature of technology. But, it can provide a place for teens to say what is on their mind and to explore who they are – all within the watchful eyes of the parents who love them.
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