Media consumption is up among American children, including Facebook usage. But should your kids really be on Facebook? If they’re under thirteen, Facebook does not allow them to have an account. However, many parents are looking the other way, letting kids tell a tiny white lie in order to open Facebook profiles.

The Facebook Dilemma

Recently I received the following email from a friend requesting advice:

My 11-year-old daughter begs me EVERY DAY to let her have an account. I am so weary of the begging, pleading, whining and pouting.

Facebook’s terms state that no one under 13 may have an account. However, it is as easy as changing the year you were born and cha-ching! You’re in. We all know parents who allow this. My husband and I have one major objection to allowing our child to “fudge” her age in order to be on Facebook. We feel it is lying and do not like the message we would be sending, i.e., it is okay to lie about something (in this case, her age) in order to get something you really want.

At first, her resolve was strong because she didn’t want to lie. However, with the popularity of Facebook, that resolve is weakening. It is very difficult when it really does seem that “all” of her friends have an account. I even realize most parents who allow this place very tight restrictions on the use of it; but that still doesn’t change the fact that the child’s age had to be faked.

Yes, it is easy for your kids to fudge their birth year on Facebook, just as easy as it is for that 40-year-old man can enter his birth year as 1995 and upload a picture of a puppy, or Nick Jonas.

I have been able to use the ‘not until you’re thirteen’ line to hold off Facebook discussions so far. Neither of my children are pushing it yet. I see kids on Facebook every day — kids I know, kids I certainly don’t want to be ‘friends’ with because it would cause me to censor myself for their sake, kids I’m worried about because I see grownups making mistakes every day.

Is Facebook Socially Distorting? Or Socially Advantageous?

It goes without saying that all kinds of dangerous things can happen in the Facebook environment — from fake profiles to inappropriate chatting, but according to Douglas A. Gentile, director of the Media Research Lab at Iowa State University, anonymous interaction is not the only threat. He is concerned that the time children spend in front of a screen is taking our children away from other activities.

"The more time we spend not being active, just being passive, we are losing skills that need practice, whether that's reading or math or social skills," he said.

Using media to connect with others — rather than in the "real world" — may also be affecting the kind of social interaction children learn, he said.

"It's not the same type of social interaction they have when they are face-to-face with someone," he said. "It may not be isolating so much, as socially distorting."

I’m not sure I agree. Society is everchanging. There is a whole world of social nuance one must master in order to effectively navigate the new world of on- and offline friendship. It is possible that the children who start learning these skills earlier will have an advantage over those who wait.