Keeping in touch: American scouts take time out to check Facebook and emails at one of the AT&T Connection Zones  during a National Jamboree Camp at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. *MCT photo
Keeping in touch: American scouts take time out to check Facebook and emails at one of the AT&T Connection Zones during a National Jamboree Camp at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. *MCT photo

With 500 million active users, Facebook is a formidable presence among social networking sites. Its stated goal of “giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” is easily met with users of all ages logging on for as many as 500 billion minutes per month.

Although Facebook requires its users be no younger than 13-years-old, the site has no effective age-verifying system in place.

So tech-savvy pre-teens are setting up accounts in record numbers, and joining the world of social networking.

Is Facebook a harmless pastime or should parents be concerned?  

Lilyanna is 12-years-old and a brand new Facebook user. Although her two older brothers have Facebook accounts, Lilyanna wasn’t enticed to set up her own until she made some new friends on a recent trip to the United States. 

She wanted to keep in touch and found that several of her new acquaintances were on Facebook. After some research, and because they approved of the friendships she was trying to develop, her parents gave their permission for Lilyanna to join.

“Mostly, I use Facebook for the email,” she explained, but if any of her friends are on-line when she logs on, she says that they “talk for a bit”.

Lilyanna logs on almost daily, which, according to Facebook, is typical of about 50 per cent of their worldwide users.

Lilyanna’s parents appreciate the usefulness of the Internet, but recognize that it is potentially harmful.

They maintain open communication with their children about Internet usage but place computers in public areas of the home to avoid “secret online conversations”, and they utilize “blocking and monitoring technologies”, said Joseph, Lilyanna’s dad.

To set up an account with Facebook, one needs only five free minutes and an email address. After giving some very basic information, including your birth date, a confirmation email is sent to you.

Once you’ve (counter)-confirmed, an account is opened. New users then begin the arduous, though fun task of completing a personal profile and accumulating friends.

Facebook reports that their average user has about 130 friends.

In addition to connecting with friends, checking statuses, tagging and commenting on photos, and uploading video, users may also entertain themselves with over 550,000 applications hosted by Facebook Platform.

These applications allow users to interact with friends in more creative and useful ways, as well as providing entertaining and engaging games, connection with external websites, and of course, advertisements.

Facebook, and other sites like it, present a few real dangers to younger users., resource provided by the Ministry of Energy, Telecommunica-tions & E-Commerce, advises parents to be informed about the sites their children use, to understand and utilize the sites’ privacy settings, and to stress with their children that they should never arrange to meet with an online friend. 

In fact, they should not communicate with anyone that they have not already met in person. These guidelines can protect children from predators, but social networks present an additional danger.

Cybertips recommends that young online users be made aware that anything “published on the Web,” should be considered permanent. Sites like Facebook, which encourage sharing and transparency, become the perfect environment for over-sharing. Cybertips says that “whether you or someone else is posting information or images of you online, there is no guarantee that it won’t come back to haunt you later in life.”

Social networking sites, like Facebook, are here to stay. The Internet isn’t shrinking; it’s getting larger and more vital to all parts of our lives.

While we want our children to be safe, we also want them to be competent with the tools of their generation.

With supervision, regulation, and a healthy balance of other activities, Facebook can be an enriching addition to our children’s lives.