Facebook has been, without a doubt, the single most important website in my family’s life.
When we arrived at Bangladesh in 2008 Facebook kept us in touch with all our friends. In fact, I’ve got in touch with old school friend who I had foolishly lost contact with and it has been wonderful to catch up with their lives and regain loved ones. In fact, the person who suggested I write this post is just such a much loved person and I am well blessed to have found her again (Hi Jacqui!).
But the question is – do we allow our children to have a Facebook site when they are under the stipulated age of 13?
The simple answer is: No. But, like most simple answers, it is not as simple as that.
Firstly, a bit like smoking and drinking alcohol when I grew up – everyone is doing it. We’ve refused to let our children have Facebook for years even though the majority of their friends at school have it. Similarly we refused to let them have a mobile phone too despite even more friends having that. We did so (and with our nine year old son continue to do so) because we care about them, want to keep them safe and don’t want them dependent on gadgets to be happy. They have a life here where they play outside in safety, have real friends and enjoy an innocent childhood with little encroachment of sex, drugs, scandals, fashion and a host of other things that young people are into and talking about. You can’t stop everything of course – nor should we try – but here the damage is limited.
I say damage because I saw it in the kids I taught in UK schools. They came into the school as happy, fun kids. Less than three years later they were cynical, grumpy teens frustrated by hormones and knowing about everything but not being permitted any of it!
We relented with our daughter, in the end, because she does still have friends in the UK and she will be going back to them one day. We want her to keep her links with them and when our son is old enough, we’ll let him do the same.
The way I think of it is this: In the end, we have set up the Facebook account, we control it and have complete access. All messages are emailed out to our addresses and my wife and I are friends on the account. It is not illegal to put any name you want in Facebook so we have put our account in our daughter’s name and allowed her to use it whilst being able to see everything she does if we so wish and at any time. I think that is a perfectly fine compromise to allow her to develop with her friends and do so in safety. It’s not everyone’s way of doing things and that’s fine. But I have to tell you – Facebook has been a blessing to us and allowed our friends to support us in Bangladesh – how could I be a good father and not let our daughter have that too? Her childhood it too precious.