USA TODAY's Michelle Healy talked to Susan Bartell, a psychologist in New York and author of The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask, and James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, an advocacy organization for kids and media, about their concerns.
Q: Why aren't you excited about the idea of Facebook letting the under-13 crowd have access, even with more safety and privacy controls?
Bartell: I really worry that it comes with a false sense of safety. I think too many parents will think their kids are safe on "Baby Facebook" and now they don't have to monitor them. In reality, their kids are just going to become used to social media that much younger. And after a month or two of that they're going to be like, "I'm done with that" and will start a regular Facebook, and Tumblr and Twitter and just use a name their parents don't know.
Steyer: There are enormous social, cognitive and development issues that have to be considered (when dealing with social media and kids) and Facebook has no expertise in that area. And there are currently enormous privacy concerns regarding the teens who already use it and the preteens who sneak on. Why on earth would we suddenly turn over our 8-year-olds to them while they haven't addressed very well many of those issues yet? It doesn't make sense.
Q: Cynics might suggest that this smacks of targeting a potential new advertising market.
Bartell: My very first instinct was that it's Facebook trying to capture another audience to market to.
Steyer: You have to worry that that's a factor here. Big tobacco was very, very smart in trying to create brand loyalty starting at the very earliest possible age. That's why they created Joe Camel. We shouldn't be trying to build brand loyalty among 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds.
Q: When it comes to younger kids, is it not a good idea for them to emulate older kids' use of social media?
Steyer: Kids aspire up and want to (act older than they are) but we don't want them aging up to (using social media) at 7 or 8 and thinking that's the appropriate way to communicate with people, and companies need to respect that.
Bartell: At a certain age, kids are driven to be social in a way that we, as parents, don't really understand because social media didn't exist for us. The reality of our children's world is that their social lives include, inextricably, social media. And we can't turn the clock back on that. No matter how much we wish it was the olden days, it isn't.
Q: What's the key to working with preteens in their use of social media?
Bartell: In the same way that we look at the kids our kids bring home, to see if we approve of them, or don't, we need to be extremely aware of what our kids are doing online. That means we have to check their computers; look at their phones periodically; check for accounts they might have that we don't know about; look at the history in their computers up until they're about 15 or 16. We need to be very aware of any changes in their behavior, any secretiveness; too many passwords, see them slamming their computers shut when we walk in the door. We really need to question that and not ignore it.
Steyer: And let's leave it to the kid-centric companies like Disney and Nickelodeon, who have decades of experience working with young kids and families and are very experienced at providing these kinds of social opportunities that are important to kids.