Children as young as 13 will be allowed to be a member of Google+, a social networking service similar to Facebook, according to executives at Google. After 6 months of "testing" their privacy settings, Google made the decision to allow teenagers to become members.
Talking heads appeared immediately on every news outlet to debate the issue of whether children should have access to social media. At first glance, the obvious questions are raised:
"Why does a 13 year-old need their own webpage to interact with their friends?"
"Doesn't this make children and their privacy vulnerable?"
And the most popular question thus far: "Why expose children to the internet to make them targets for online predators?"
While I have always been a fan of actually talking to my friends and family when I want to talk to them rather than using a website to pretend to know what is going on with their lives, I understand the need for social media. People want information, and they want it fast...no matter if that information is news, sports, celebrity gossip, or even information about their friends and family. Facebook and Google+ provide the effortless access to information we all crave. Egos need to be fed, and when there's an entire website devoted to an individual - which is exactly why Facebook and social media have become so popular - it becomes increasingly difficult to not get drawn into the positive aspects of Facebook and Google+.
The information age is upon us, and teenagers are no different than anyone else when it comes to the internet. People of all ages have been known to write (not "say" because that would require actually talking) information on the internet they have later regretted. Responsible adults have sent messages they have wanted to retract.
Parents have seemed to ignore the problems of self-centered behavior and lack of decision-making skills and instead have focused their anger towards Google+. Allowing children to become members has not made Google popular amongst parents. Those who aren't angry at Google+ are now scared of "internet predators" and are now convinced their children are susceptible to the "dangers of the internet."
Barry Glassner, President of Lewis & Clark College and former professor of sociology at the University of Southern California wrote a book entitled: "The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things." This examination of society's need to be terrified forces readers to think about their concerns and determine if they are realistic. Statistical data is provided to show exactly why particular activities are not dangerous and why Americans are influenced by television programming in developing their fears. (Thank you, "To Catch a Predator" and 24-hour news networks.) In short, Glassner provides compelling arguments on why parents should not worry themselves over "internet predators" but instead focus on real dangers that exist for the average child.
Text messaging while driving, gossiping, developing judgmental attitudes, and a lack of concern for others are much more "real concerns" for teenagers everywhere - not online predators. If you make the decision to allow your children to use social media, try to spend time talking about the former and spend less time worrying about the latter. The evidence is overwhelming.