Faith--FamilyOur 12-year-old daughter wants to have a Facebook account. We feel she is too young, but, of course, all her friends, and many adults she knows are on Facebook, and she doesn’t want to be left out. As Catholic parents, how do we guide our daughter?

Facebook is great for keeping in touch with family and finding people from our past lives. It definitely has eased communication and many people have made checking their “wall” a part of their daily routines. Like so many good things, Facebook also has a down side.

Because it’s so quick and easy, people can post reactive comments about someone else, their appearance in photos, their decisions and activities, and any other aspects of their lives that they have chosen to share with their “friends.” Those “on the wall” comments can hurt the recipient as well as engender gossip and drama when read by many others who have no real reference point for the conversation.

This insensitivity occurs among adults on Facebook all the time. Imagine what might happen in the world of 12-year-olds whose developing “sense of self” is rather fragile and often measured by “I see you seeing me.”

Certainly many good, supportive, uplifting remarks and prayers are posted on Facebook, but the potential for the opposite is present as well. Words – even those typed on a screen – hold a certain power and they are difficult to take back.

Some folks feel comfortable posting details of the latest family feud, pictures of their surgical scar, detailed accounts of their night out, and a lot of other humdrum daily details. For others, postings of certain words and images cross the line and become a breach of privacy and confidentiality.

This is a very individual, sensitive judgment. Because social networking promotes fast, easy, and “let everybody know,” it also requires some discriminating thought. How public and open for commentary should an individual’s life be? And to what end all this self-revelation?

Permission to be your “friend” is the way in which Facebook creators have tried to build in a safeguard for users to have discriminatory control over who will see their wall and images. Yet people allow total strangers and sometimes literally hundreds of people to be their “friends.” How will your daughter decide who is in and who is out?

Can she understand and grapple with this level of complexity in her social relationships? Can she be prudent in using social media? Many adults can’t. Examine and pray over your initial hesitation about letting your daughter have a Facebook account. Are your concerns grounded in Christian principles? How does going on Facebook “build the good” in the life of a 12-year-old? As parents we often face the “everybody else is doing it” argument. Juxtapose that with Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 10:23: “Everything is lawful, but not everything is beneficial.”

(Christ is a consultant in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The married mother of four young adult children, she gives talks and workshops, leads retreats and is a spiritual director. Christ self-publishes materials for parishes, and is the author of “Journeying with Mark,” “Journeying with Luke” and “Journeying with Matthew.” Published by Paulist Press, the books are intended to be used by families in the car on the way to Mass.)