How Old is Old Enough on the Internet?

If we talk bluntly here, I will admit that I am a Mom and a Stepmom. These are two different things, no matter which way you slice it. Of course you love the kids, biological and not. But there are so many other factors in stepparenting that change the dynamic. Namely, the presence of (in my case) three other parents involved.

One area that we have found differing opinions is online freedom handed down to my stepson, who is now 12 years old. If I were to be perfectly honest, I’d confess that – at about his age – I was all over the internet, into things my parents knew nothing about. I was on message boards, taking part in RPG forums, and I was quite the pioneer of the IM.

I feel like I sound like an old fart here, but the internet was a different place back then.

It’s true – it’s their native language now.

Now, there is danger at every click, it seems like. Chris Hansen has inspired fear in every parent by exposing some of the sick minds out there, the ones who prey on children. I wish I could say that this danger is limited to the 22″ screen – oh, those things don’t happen here! - but they do. I know children who have been solicited. I know these things.

So when it was announced that my stepson would be given a Facebook account at the age of 9, I decided this was a sword I would fall on. See, I do the internets. I know about internet security, about internet privacy, and how there’s really neither of both to be found. I also knew that a Facebook account was set-up, and although it was sworn to be “safe”, I could see it. Without being signed in. And I put my foot down.

Not only that, but I could tell you where he was that afternoon. See, even if a parent approves all of the child’s “friends”, there are children out there who are already heavily involved in sites like Foursquare. And they tag their friends with them when they sign in. So not only could I swiftly tell you where my stepson was, I also knew he had about four friends hanging out with him at that very moment.

It’s a lovely bit of knowledge when you’re a parent, but man, nothing you want the predators to know.

Eventually, the issue fell in on itself, and at the age of 12 – with the age of Facebook consent being 13, mind you – we agreed that perhaps an account would be okay. We all have passwords to it, and we all log in regularly to make sure nothing shady or below board is happening. We are all friends with him online. For the most part, he stays self-regulated, engaging in only funny cat memes or the occasional YouTube video of someone not quite landing a skateboard stunt.

For that, we feel blessed. Because it is a jungle out there.

How do you handle your pre-teen’s online presence? What rules do you have that work for your family?