The MeFi youth of today and tomorrow October 31, 2018 9:00 AM   Subscribe

My son wants to get a MeFi account. He's 11. Pros, cons?

He knows I'm on the site, and I recently sat him down, showed the subsites to him, some of my favorite posts, etc. He's excited, thinks it looks cool, and wants an account. What's the general feeling on this? How young is too young, both for him and the community?

In terms of my own history, I generally post thinking that someday a family member or secret police agent will read what I write, so I don't think I've posted anything too compromising. Plus, he already knows my username, so that ship's sailed anyway.
posted by signal to Etiquette/Policy at 9:00 AM (83 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I think 13 is the general requirement for most sites, due to laws about collecting information from minors, but I may be making that up from decade-old information.
posted by lazuli at 9:08 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Don't know what the actual rules are, but as a precocious kid at that age I would have LOVED Metafilter had it been around then.
posted by Melismata at 9:10 AM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, from my experience working on an online game for kids, we'd have to abide by all the rules set out by COPPA and we are not currently doing so. It's probably not a direction we'd want to go, either. (Again based on 8-year-old memories, it doesn't matter where the kid is from, it matters that we're a US-based service.)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:12 AM on October 31, 2018 [10 favorites]

From the site point of view, what restless_nomad said. We don't really do anything special about kids, we don't ask people's ages, etc.

Just speaking personally, I tend to be very cautious about things like this. On this or any site, I'd only do this under a non-identifable pseudonym, for example, and I wouldn't put any identifiable info on the profile page.

Some things to think about, just off the top of my head:

1.) What would he get from having an account that he couldn't get from just reading along, and maybe making the occasional proxy comment through you? All the content here is already viewable by non-members.

2.) If he were going to participate, he'd be subject to (roughly) adultish standards -- there's no "kid version" of site standards here -- so for example, he might get comments or posts deleted if he's not sticking to the guidelines, or if he was being a goof, saying something he may not realize is a problem, etc. People won't be expecting a kid, so they might react in conversation as if he were an adult, and be annoyed at him not knowing something that adults know, for example.

3.) We don't have serious content filtering or parental controls on the site, so if he's around (even as a non-member), he'd be able to see discussions on adult topics like sex, violence, etc. We don't have any ability to lock down a kid's account to exclude Mefimail for example. If he can log in, he'd be able to change any settings on his account.

4.) There aren't really other kids around to talk with here, and we don't have a lot of coverage of kid-specific topics.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:24 AM on October 31, 2018 [32 favorites]

Too young. I'm sure he's super awesome, but please don't bring children to an adult party (so-to-speak). It's not fun for the kids or the adults.
posted by terrapin at 9:39 AM on October 31, 2018 [64 favorites]

I consider it a blessing that none of the BBSs I was on when I was 11 still exist, and I was always extremely careful about not linking them to my real name.

Also, what terrapin said.
posted by Etrigan at 9:42 AM on October 31, 2018 [15 favorites]

So, I jumped into chatrooms and stuff at age 12, back in the mid-90s. It was pretty thrilling to me to be able to participate in a space where people assumed I was an adult and treated me as such. There were times when things got a bit weird and times when in retrospect I made a complete ass of myself, but overall it was a very positive experience. It's what taught me to type.

That said, the mid-90s chatroom scene and Metafilter in 2018 are pretty different venues. Standards of behavior are much higher here, and everything we post is permanent and searchable. The internet at large is also a very different, much higher-stakes environment than it was 25 years ago. So more caution is warranted, I think.

I wouldn't come down totally against it, though. Learning how to navigate a place like MetaFilter would be a good lesson for someone his age, who is just starting to figure out what it means to participate in society as an adult. MetaFilter teaches important skills like reading the room, code switching, self policing, and just generally how to moderate one's behavior so that it fits the context. It's probably also pretty good for language development.

What I'd do is I'd tell him to lurk for a year and get back to me if he still wants an account then. MetaFilter is not an easy environment to just jump into—a kid is likely to get burned that way, just by acting like a kid. Unless I'm mistaken, extended lurking is pretty much the norm here; I know I was a reader for two or three years before I ponied up the $5 entry fee. So tell him to read the site for a year and then after that, you will consider giving him an account if he thinks he's up for it. And I'd probably still supervise his use (not like looking over his shoulder in real life, but rather reading his comments and making sure he was behaving and not doing anything potentially dangerous) for a year or two after that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:50 AM on October 31, 2018 [11 favorites]

I have four children, ages 24 to 11. One of them, who is currently 14, would have been a great metafilter member at 11. He had a really mature judgment about online stuff, and was really good at self-monitoring what was OK for him and what wasn't. My current 11yo: no way.

I think the points raised above are good ones to consider, but wanted to chime in to say that your judgment about your kid and how he'll handle the site and participation in it matters, too.
posted by Orlop at 9:51 AM on October 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

permanent searchable archives and adults expressing opinions with great certitude are two of the things I would most want to shelter kids from on the internet.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:08 AM on October 31, 2018 [15 favorites]

I think the points made above are solid, and lean myself towards that expressed by Anticipation... and Orlop, but I also gotta add I might potentially really welcome some FPPs by young people that come from way outside my normal range of experience if they, the posts and the young people posting, were able to fit into the site's expected behavioral norms and found something of benefit for themselves in doing so. I personally get the feeling the site is starting to gray, and not just here on Metatalk, and could stand some opinions form a much younger crowd if that could be done respectfully and productively from both sides.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:09 AM on October 31, 2018 [8 favorites]

I was eleven when I discovered grown up literature. It had been lying around my whole life -- it just never occurred to me to pick up something like The Godfather and actually read it. Anyway, there was no looking back. I loved it. I didn't understand a bunch of it but what the hell, I was just a kid, I wasn't supposed to understand it, but I still loved it and the more I read, the more I understood.

But that's just reading, whereas this is a site full of discussion -- a different sort of beast. I think I'm with Orlop above --

but wanted to chime in to say that your judgment about your kid and how he'll handle the site and participation in it matters, too.

You know him better than any of we do.
posted by philip-random at 10:16 AM on October 31, 2018

Our membership tends to have a rather homogeneous viewpoint on some issues and if he spends a lot of time here in his formative years, he's likely to be, well, formed by them. For instance, Metafilter tilts heavily toward bailing on relationships (including marriages) if they're not working for you, and away from traditional notions of sticking it out. I kind of wish kid me had been formed by Metafilter on that issue, actually, but you may want something different for your kid.

Also, there are some pretty explicitly adult threads on the green and I feel like 11 is way too young for many of them.
posted by HotToddy at 10:31 AM on October 31, 2018 [10 favorites]

I'm wondering what it is your son finds intriguing enough about Metafilter that he wants to join? Is it more to join in the conversations or to share cool stuff he likes? If it's the latter, then I'd personally be more willing to allow him an account that he can post FPPs under supervision to start and see how it goes for him and the site, if it's the former, then I'd lean more towards having him lurk for a while and maybe write up some mock responses or responses that you could post for him under your account to give him and yourself a better feel for what he wants to say. That would, I think, go a ways towards determining how good a fit the site if for him and vice versa.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:36 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also spent a lot of time as an adolescent in adult spaces online, including couple of spaces that specifically mandated that all users must be 18+*, and... to be honest, I kind of cherish that experience? For kids who do have the maturity to lurk and pick up site norms, especially those who are already interested in "adult" topics and can cope with held to adult standards, it can be really valuable to follow along with adult discussions and pick up non-parental adults' perspectives on things. I certainly got a lot of valuable age-mixed experience with what it meant to be an adult and make adult decisions from non-peer-segregated environments. With respect to sexual content, etc, I was pretty good at self-monitoring my comfort level and hanging out in spaces that I felt comfortable in; my estimations of what I was ready for and interested in might not have been the same as my parent's estimations, but in retrospect I think I was right for me. (And yes, I did definitely stumble into corners that were too much for me and then stumble back.)

I think that watching adults disagree with one another with varying levels of respect was good for me, for example. I picked up a lot from seeing adults engage with one another, and I also very much picked up a lot of information about social behavior and good social rules for interaction by watching adults treat me with the same standards they would have for any peer.

I'm not sure I could have managed here at eleven, but I certainly think I could have been a decent member by fifteen or sixteen, judging from my teenage self's pseudonymous message board commenting history. (Well, and I've been sciatrix since I was seventeen, so...) You know your kid best, I think. Do you think he could handle brusque adults being frustrated if he doesn't know something they think is obvious? Think about places where MeFi gets the rudest and most fighty. Do you think he can handle himself in that situation and navigate a conflict if he accidentally irritates someone's sore spot, with or without your advice and support?

This conversation comes up a lot in media fandom, especially recently, as another place with adults interacting online with adolescents of varying ages. My general rule is that I don't mind teenagers interacting with me as a peer, but I don't cater to them either, and I expect teenagers in my social spaces to be able to interact with me as a peer. I kind of love teenagers as a teacher, but I am not ever holding myself in Teacher Mode when I'm hanging out in peer spaces. I like talking to teenagers who can keep up as peers, too--often they have different perspectives from me, and I bet they have plenty of good things to contribute here.

And count me in as someone who would be delighted to see more FPPs from younger users--I often feel like one of the younger users here, and I am twenty-eight. I'd be delighted to hear perspectives on cool things from Gen Z, too.

*this was also for legal reasons, although these forums mandated the rule to the point that anyone who mentioned being under 18 was routinely banned and removed. I think I spent two years in that particular space quite happily. I don't necessarily advocate teens lying about their age, but I also learned a lot on that particular forum and think that on balance I took useful things away from the space.
posted by sciatrix at 10:48 AM on October 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

I am very fond of having been on Usenet back in the day, and possibly someday Metafilter will have become the same kind of memory, in which case your kid will be glad to have it.

What I enjoyed was being able to connect with enthusiastic, intelligent people on topics that people around me had no idea existed. It was also a thrill to talk to people from other parts of the globe, which may or may not still be true for kids these days. What I didn't enjoy was getting my head bitten off for saying things that seemed reasonable to me (but were actually quite naive), and I also didn't really enjoy how I felt when I'd gotten angry and fired off a mean response, even a funny one.*

If the law is not an obstacle in this case, then this is potentially a learning experience. You can help your son learn how to read the rooms and to avoid hasty responses, just as he would in real life. You can also help him learn what threads he really should not click on, which, alas, I had to learn on Usenet the hard way. If your son is still interested in this supervised participation, and if it's legally possible, I would make him welcome.

* And what I super did not enjoy was the really explicit propositioning that seemed to be part of allowing yourself to be messaged on AOL, but I would be extremely surprised if Metafilter posed this kind of danger; if it even came close, I am sure one of the mods would fire that person into the sun.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:09 AM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Think he's a bit young (see: HotToddy's take on the appropriateness of some of the questions on Ask); wondering if the prime driver of his interest is your interest. Do you have any shared hobbies/pastimes now?
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:12 AM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Metafilter: I'm wondering what it is your son finds intriguing enough about Metafilter that he wants to join?
posted by Melismata at 11:30 AM on October 31, 2018 [8 favorites]

I think there is a lot of very explicit language on this site that isn't appropriate for an 11-year-old, although I confess I cannot say what I think the age cutoff should be.
posted by JanetLand at 11:42 AM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'd worry more about themes and tone than language.

There is a goodly number of threads there where fear, despair, and catastrophizing win the day. If your 11yo is sturdy enough to wander into one of the Fucking Fuck threads or the MegaThread and not feel like his shoulders are breaking under the weight of the world, then I think he can handle the etiquette, language, norms, etc.
posted by kimberussell at 11:53 AM on October 31, 2018 [13 favorites]

Nope. Do you want him to be reading the politics threads? The fuck-fucking-fuck venting threads? People calling for guillotines, killing the rich, etc. The OMG just burn it all attitudes?

On preview, what kimberussell just said.
posted by MikeKD at 11:57 AM on October 31, 2018 [9 favorites]

a kid's capacity to emotionally metabolize despair shouldn't be the way of determining how much despair to let a kid soak in

"sturdy" kids deserve to get to be kids just as much as "fragile" kids do
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:01 PM on October 31, 2018 [23 favorites]

I don't consider myself mature enough for MetaFilter, either.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:15 PM on October 31, 2018 [34 favorites]

fwiw I was 17 when I joined MetaFilter in 2002 and I cringe at my posting / commenting history anywhere earlier than like 2015. YMMV, I was a troubled child, etc.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:17 PM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

11-year-old me would've loved Metafilter.

(11-year-old would've also flamed out, possibly after seeing something he wasn't really ready to see.)
posted by box at 12:18 PM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

fwiw I was 17 when I joined MetaFilter in 2002 and I cringe at my posting / commenting history anywhere earlier than like 2015. YMMV, I was a troubled child, etc.

You know, in thinking about this a little more deeply...yikes.

I wrote a bunch of really shitty comments, picked fights and was immature, and all sorts of other crappy stuff when I was a teen / young adult on MetaFilter. I also had pretty rough untreated mental health issues and no parental guidance to speak of. There's a handful of posters that were around back then who pushed back on my crap, set me straight on stupid shit that I wrote, and acted as examples for what mature adult behavior could look like. It's scary to write, but in a lot of ways, the MetaFilter community served as surrogate parent / social instructor at pivotal points in my teenage and young adult life.

That's not to say that MetaFilter should have done this, or ever should again, or that it was appropriate for me to be growing up here, etc. But I never had another internet home and absent parents / consistent local friend groups, MetaFilter was there.

I'm 35 now and deeply grateful and ashamed and all sorts of other emotions. My circumstance is not the same as OP's kid. And there's definitely a lot less room for error these days in terms of shitty behavior tolerance here than in the old days, which is unequivocally a very good thing.

I dunno. Current day 35 year old me wouldn't want 17 year old me at the party, but 17 year old me would have been completely lost without this place. Maybe give it a few more years - 11 is really young.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:28 PM on October 31, 2018 [7 favorites]

It's scary to write, but in a lot of ways, the MetaFilter community served as surrogate parent / social instructor at pivotal points in my teenage and young adult life.

Yes, this, 100%, this--not that Metafilter did this for me, but that other communities where adults who were primarily there to interact with peers did so for me was incredibly important for me as a teenager and young adult. Having community adults model these kinds of interactions is hugely important. I suppose my question is:

a) is your son at the stage of his development where he is beginning to practice socially interacting like an adult?

b) does he have access to other adults he enjoys listening to who will let him into their spaces to observe them as a peer? Like, if he's interested in being online and interested in listening to adults and practicing interacting with people who will treat him as a peer, but this is not where he goes... where else will he go for that kind of experience?

11 does feel too young to me, but then again when I was eleven I don't think I would have "stuck" at MetaFilter; just bounced off and found conversations and expectations elsewhere that were interesting to me and sitting about at my level. I guess... like I said, I had a surprising ability to identify and step out of spaces that genuinely were too much for me as a kid, largely because they were not fun for me to participate in.
posted by sciatrix at 12:43 PM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

anybody of any age who can get themselves access to some internet forum on their own has as much business being there as anybody else. it's only bad for them in the way it's bad for all of us. some people think children deserve special protections from places like this, but others think that terrible experiences build character.

anyway, the way to tell you're too young for an internet thing isn't by numerical age, it's if your first instinct is to ask your parents for permission to do it. so he's too young.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:56 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

I can answer what an 11-year-old is interested in on this site: FanFare. My (newly!) 11-y.-o. has loved the "Steven Universe" posts, and has been bugging me for an account. I feel much better, being able to say "Sweetie, mods advise being 13 due to legal mumbo-jumbo."

A few times, I have let her post a comment or question under my username, and that has worked out OK.

She really, really want to be thought of as an adult, and can talk with lots of adults in a very mature way, and is much more conversant in social issues than I was at her age (this is a kid who felt strongly about getting a rainbow flag to display in her room, and who considers it a regular order of business to ask about preferred pronouns), but...MetaFilter's conversations are dense, and complex, and a lot to process, and she's still adding to her toolbox for understanding and processing some of the stuff we discuss here. I am pretty OK with letting her comment in FF, as long as it's clear it's coming from her...but I'm not sure either of us is ready for her to be a full participant here.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:01 PM on October 31, 2018 [10 favorites]

I would be concerned your kid would say the wrong thing at some point. Mefi can come down on people like a tonne of bricks when they break a norm, say something perceived as offensive or clueless etc.

It's assumed people are talking to an adult when the site does this. I'm not always crazy about it then, the idea of that vitriol landing on a kid is pretty awful. I don't think it would be good for them.
posted by smoke at 1:12 PM on October 31, 2018 [26 favorites]

I value parents and people who work with children. I've done some volunteer work with middle schoolers. When I log on to Metafilter, it is not to volunteer to be a teacher/mentor/role-model for your 11-year-old. Who is probably great! But that's not what I'm here for. I'm here to interact with adults, and I interact with people here like they're adults, and I would be very unhappy if you made me partially responsible for the well-being of someone who I hadn't consented to help supervise. Even if you say you don't intend that, I can't not behave differently when I'm interacting in an environment that includes kids that age, and if I didn't know I was talking to an 11-year-old, I would feel very gross and uncomfortable if I found out afterwards.

There are spaces that are very good for adults to interact with children, but I don't think this is one of them.
posted by Sequence at 1:54 PM on October 31, 2018 [20 favorites]

I think it's nice to consider what interacting with this site is/was/would be like for a precocious younger person. But also, please, think about what it's like for the adults on the site to interact with younger people, especially if they don't know they're younger. And gender plays a role. Looking back on my online history, I'm certain now that a couple of people who did/said awful things to me or promoted a reprehensible opinion in a discussion with me were really, really young and/or naive in a way I didn't perceive then. Not your son or your daughter, of course, but other kids who don't have the life experience, knowledge, or sensitivity to know when they're full of shit. And they can do real harm, even when they don't realize they are doing it.

In general, I'm just saying our only concern shouldn't be for the kids and how great an experience it could be for them. We should give at least as much consideration to everyone else who has to deal with them.
posted by Miko at 1:57 PM on October 31, 2018 [9 favorites]

if I didn't know I was talking to an 11-year-old, I would feel very gross and uncomfortable if I found out afterwards.

God I didn't even think of this. Given the various regs and structures around conversing with minors online, yeah I'd hate for anyone on the site to find themselves in a weird position given a misunderstanding about identity.
posted by Miko at 2:00 PM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm at where prize bull octorok is, re: exposure to despair. Do you really want to risk the chance of basically ruining him as a kid and making him a bitter, apathetic, world-weary, overly-critical-of-everything 47 year old? Which is what I see the emblematic Mefite being, more or less. Teenage and preteen despair is bad enough, but at least passing into adulthood is partly about realizing the ways in which that teenage despair was starved of healthy context, knowledge, and proportionality. Adult despair in a place like this, meanwhile, is often a result of soaking in too much context and knowledge and feeling overwhelmed by it. Which is a malaise that people seek out writers like, I don't know, David Foster Wallace to understand and seek solutions for, and then you're definitely punching above an 11 year old's weight in 99% of cases.

The one thing I'd say to throw this all into question is that, whether you give permission or not, 11 year olds are reading the comments sections at places like Reddit and Youtube and definitely getting a lot of toxic ideas from a lot of toxic places. If the little dude is already soaking in that environment, then Metafilter could be a corrective of sorts. But that's a complex and very individual determination. And it also risks looking at this site with rose-tinted glasses.
posted by naju at 2:28 PM on October 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

LobsterMitten: we don't have a lot of coverage of kid-specific topics

Oddly, I was thinking the opposite -- we have more "soft" topics than I think we did in the past on MetaFilter, and there's FanFare for (often quiet) (pop) media discussions. And there are plenty of questions on AskMe about what to do with/ for kids.

That said, there is definitely stuff I would NOT want a 11 year old to see, mainly in the Blue and in Green, and there are probably some more adult conversations on FanFare that I'm overlooking because I'm an adult who isn't (yet) thinking of "what if my kid reads this?"

11 is a funny age, possibly falling in the (U.S.) Middle School/ expanded Junior High area, where there are some kids who are pretty mature, and some kids are, well, kids. 13 seems like a better cut-off generally, but that's a somewhat arbitrary generalization. I know of at least one mefite who has been reading the site since they were 13 per a MeTa comment of theirs. For me, I can imagine myself skimming the site in high school, but before that, I don't know if I'd find enough of it interesting to keep coming back.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:29 PM on October 31, 2018

I think there's a big difference between a kid reading metafilter, possibly with adult guidance, and a kid having an account and *commenting* on metafilter. The former could be beneficial, I don't know, but the latter makes me uncomfortable.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:37 PM on October 31, 2018 [8 favorites]

The real problem with MetaFilter is that none of its users are 11 - and that’s why they should all be banned. Vote #1 quidnunc signal’s kid!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:28 PM on October 31, 2018 [10 favorites]

lazaruslong: That's not to say that MetaFilter should have done this, or ever should again, or that it was appropriate for me to be growing up here, etc.

Dude, I am still growing up at 34, and MetaFilter is still a significant factor in my personal growth. We are all shaped by the communities of which we are a part, all the time. That's what communities are for, that's what being human is about.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:45 PM on October 31, 2018 [7 favorites]

When I log on to Metafilter, it is not to volunteer to be a teacher/mentor/role-model for your 11-year-old. Who is probably great! But that's not what I'm here for. I'm here to interact with adults, and I interact with people here like they're adults, and I would be very unhappy if you made me partially responsible for the well-being of someone who I hadn't consented to help supervise.

Nobody is asking for that, are they? I mean… there are probably some kids on here anyway that we just don't know about, we have enough users that it just seems statistically likely. And kids are definitely already reading MeFi, since that's publicly accessible.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:50 PM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

We are all shaped by the communities of which we are a part, all the time. That's what communities are for, that's what being human is about.

On the one hand: Sure. It takes a village. On the other hand: There's a reason we send kids to school (or home school them) instead of letting random strangers shape them for us. That's what parenting is about.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:54 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah, sure, on the internet, nobody knows you're an 11 year-old dog. At the same time, this site is not designed to be 11 year-old dog friendly, and when we converse with other members, we converse, generally, as among equals. Given some of the subject matter discussed between members here, it seems problematic at best to engage in such conversations with pre-teens, especially unwittingly.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:05 PM on October 31, 2018 [8 favorites]

That is a very new trend in the scope of human history.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:05 PM on October 31, 2018

I mean… there are probably some kids on here anyway that we just don't know about, we have enough users that it just seems statistically likely.

I humbly propose that MetaFilter create the office of Child-Inquisitor General, and accept my appointment as the first holder of said office for the term of one (1) lifetime (mine). If callow youth lurk and conceal themselves in the dark and shadowy corners of this community weblog (why, there might be an entire village of half-feral urchins in Projects alone), I will discover them and drive them forth to a better destination, such as a boarding-school or garment factory, by the judicious use of clamor, shaming, and the quarterstaff.

I have versed myself in childish pursuits such as "the Fort-Night," debriding videos, Pokemen, and Pauls both Jake and Logan. By this knowledge will I earn their trust and influence them to reveal their identities and hiding places.

I will not fail in my charge to rid MetaFilter of the scourge of youth.

Edited to add: my assistant has just informed me that it should be deboxing videos, not debriding. Please bear with me while I make the necessary adjustments to my methodology.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:07 PM on October 31, 2018 [12 favorites]

That is a very new trend in the scope of human history.

So is the Internet. Child labor laws. Etc. Many new trends are great! Many old ones suck.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:16 PM on October 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

Your assistant should be fired. It's unboxing.
posted by axiom at 4:21 PM on October 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

It seems to me that there are three issues.

1) What's good for your 11yo (from his perspective)?

The content and conversation is fascinating, varied, and perfect for the kind of kid I was at 11. From age 7 until about 14, I eschewed non-essential conversations with kids and only spoke to adults. I went to all-day writer's conferences when I was 11 and was invariably the only minor present. While I recall occasionally saying socially embarrassing things to other people in my age group before high school or college, I have multiple sources of confirmation that I was a chatty kid with a mostly adult mind and I never pulled focus or embarrassed myself in that realm.

Some things here are great. Some are depressing. Rarely, people can be mean. I lurked for a DECADE because the snark (especially on MetaTalk) scared me off. I was a member for years before I made my first FPP because of fear of the snark. I *still* find myself unnerved when there are pileons and crankiness. People unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) misunderstand someone; with kids, even with young adults, that is more likely to happen.

I think, from your kid's perspective, READING MetaFilter and developing a sense of community as lurker is a great idea. He can learn our societal norms, and if he's got a comment or question he really, really wants to share, he can do it through you the way people often do with their MeFite SOs and friends.

2) What's good for you as a parent?

This really depends on what kind of parent you are. I used to read the newspaper out loud to my mother when I was six, and ask her questions about the articles about Vietnam and Watergate. (I was a weird kid.) I read Dear Abby starting around that age, too. When I was about 11, I read my mother's copy of Wifey (the Judy Blume that even today would be considered NSFW), and when she came home to find me reading it, she was surprised, asked if I had any questions, and otherwise was fine. I was always allowed to watch, listen to, or read anything I wanted and was only ever cautioned about what to repeat to other children. (Apparently telling other kids that there's no Santa is a no-no.)

I had to laugh at the comment above about language on this site. My parents were "classy," swore frequently in private and never in public, and taught me norms. There is literally not a single "dirty" word I didn't hear in my home first, and yet I once had an employee who'd known me years be shocked when she heard me say "damn" because I was disinclined to swear in public. By being told the world was available to me, but having a supportive mother, my intellect was never sullied. (My father once came home while we were watching a PBS special on childbirth. My Depression-era father was, however, appalled, shouted, "Are they going to show the baby coming out of the vagina?!" and my mother, without missing a beat, said, "Shh, of course not, they'll reroute it through her ear for innocent TV viewers.")

If you're a parent like my mom and are good with letting your child see the good, bad, and weird of MetaFilter, and are willing to engage in some conversation about the content your kid reads, MetaFilter would be a great place. BUT AGAIN, let him lurk for a few years. I did, and it was good for me, and maybe good for the community, because had I never lurked, I might have been scared off before I had a chance to be useful.

3) What's good for the MeFi Community?

Does diversity, as a general concept, improve us? Yes. But we've all seen what happens when someone who is not well-versed in our norms steps into it. It become a distraction, and somtimes feelings are hurt -- just like in the real world when an office or club or organization has enthusiastic new blood that doesn't know what it doesn't know.

Some people talk to kids like they're peers/adults (for good or ill), some talk down to them, and some, who believe that there's content that's unsuitable for children to know (sex, politics, misery, whatever) would not be comfortable having conversations with younger people. Some would be rude, just as they might be rude to grownups, and then lots of people might feel awful. Some might share personal information they might not share in front of kids and just feel icky.

I've known a lot of 18-year-olds (even when I was one) whom I felt weren't mature enough to be allowed to speak in public realms. I've known some 12-year-olds (and was one) who could stand toe-to-toe with many grownups. For all three stakeholders above, I would encourage you to consider letting your child be a fan of MetaFilter, lurk and experience the content while learning how to read the room, and revisit the conversation of membership at around 14 or 15.

And OMG, yes, it's UNboxing!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 4:52 PM on October 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

Fear of the Snark is my new band name.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:15 PM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

For the record, I was one of those precocious kids who read adult books from an early age and had very adult conversations with adults when I was quite young. It didn't break me, and was arguably even good for me in the long run. On the other hand, the authors of those books didn't have to interact with me, and the adults who did interact with me knew my age (at least roughly) and chose to interact with me. Given the nature of some of that interaction, it seems like a very risky choice in hindsight, despite the end result, and these were people who at least knew me well enough to make a reasonably informed decision. But I've probably already commented more than my fair share in this thread.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:36 PM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Dude, I am still growing up at 34, and MetaFilter is still a significant factor in my personal growth. We are all shaped by the communities of which we are a part, all the time. That's what communities are for, that's what being human is about.

I mean, yes? I’m still learning from MetaFilter and I consider this place a strong force for good in my life and ethical development and education. And yes, I know that’s what communities are for. That was kind of the point of my whole comment, yet your phrasing sounds like you’re trying to explain / convince me of something. I get it. I just don’t think 11 is quite appropriate for this particular community, while making it quite clear that my opinion and circumstances are mine alone and that this is just my opinion.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:09 PM on October 31, 2018

Yeah IRFH, to be clear I do think your position is a reasonable one to hold, I just disagree with it. I'd like to think that we're pretty much all inside the spectrum of reasonableness, here in this thread.

I guess I just have this ideological, maybe just idealistic, position that kids should have a fuller role in society and that kids and adults should interact more and not lead such segregated lives. I feel like it would be good for us as a species if we stopped both idealizing childhood the way we do and also being so, well, patronising to our children. Kids have some good things to say, sometimes. Sometimes eleven-year-olds make some good points. Sometimes they could stand to hear some good points from some older people who've seen some shit, too. It could be mutually beneficial.

Nobody's asking anyone to change their behavior for the sake of welcoming children to MeFi. The debate is more about whether an eleven-year-old, or anyway some eleven-year-olds with a parent's permission, supervision, and guidance, can 1) figure out how to participate here without drawing the wrath of the users or the mods and 2) handle some of the content, and behavior, on display here without being traumatized by it.

I don't think the answer is that clear. I do know it was a good experience for me at about that age. I like to think that Metafilter is basically a good-hearted place, and that MeFites, despite our fractiousness, are good people. I think being a MeFite would probably be a good experience for some kids that age, especially if users didn't coddle them. A MeFite's a MeFite. Some kids out there would take to this place like ducks to water.

But, whatever. I'm not having kids, anyway. It's more abstract to me.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:28 PM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Sorry lazaruslong, I was just kind of riffing. I apologize if it came off condescending. I should be more careful.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:31 PM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fair enough - no ire intended here either. We could all be more careful these days. Everyone needs a hug.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:08 PM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

And OMG, yes, it's UNboxing!

Oven roasted memes and 4th night dances are my MRSA trigger
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 11:19 PM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

I was a precocious kid who got along great with adults, but they also knew how to read the room when I was there, and I wasn't always there. I consider this site an adult space, and I need to have that separation.

No matter how mature a kid is for their age, they're still a kid, and I'm never going to talk to them 100% as if they were an adult. I am not prepared to engage with someone that young on the level that I engage with people here. I'm not prepared to modify my behavior in case they'll show up to comment. I do not want to consider whether my inner thoughts and feelings are age-appropriate. I am not prepared to model adult behavior for anyone.

I struggle with social anxiety even as an adult. I would feel very uncomfortable with someone that young on this site. Yeah, I think it's great to talk to kids, but in the appropriate setting. This isn't the appropriate setting, and I don't want it to become the appropriate setting, because then I would feel even more self-conscious than I already am, and I would cancel my account.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:30 AM on November 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm actually feeling pretty self-conscious knowing kids have probably read plenty of stuff on this site already. It never occurred to me. It should have, because of course this is a public site. But it's easy to forget how many people can read what you write.

It's still another level having a kid as a member. I'm not anti-kid (I love being an uncle), but I was a dramatically different person when I was 11, even thought all the adults constantly praised me for my maturity.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:38 AM on November 1, 2018

posted by bongo_x at 12:46 AM on November 1, 2018

Heck, I joined MeFi when I was 11 and I turned out just fine.

So whose got the drugs?
posted by loquacious at 1:48 AM on November 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

I find it quite amusing that an 11-year-old is reading this debate between ourselves about whether they should be allowed to be a part of this community.
JOIN, you don’t need permission, just $5.
posted by unliteral at 4:59 AM on November 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

whose got the drugs?

posted by flabdablet at 5:11 AM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, $5 and a Paypal account, which means a bank account at the least. I think that MeFi will technically take cash in extenuating circumstances or (more likely) just waive the fee if you can explain why fronting $5 is a problem for you, but 11-year-olds don't generally have the means to buy shit online without permission.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:23 AM on November 1, 2018

Wow! thanks for that flabdablet. I haven’t thought about TISM for years. Last time I saw them was at Paddington Town Hall back in the late 70’s and I remember the moshpit being brutal.
posted by unliteral at 5:33 AM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

11-year-olds don't generally have the means to buy shit online without permission.
Maybe not with permission but believe me they can, and do, buy shit online. That cat is well out of the bag.
posted by unliteral at 5:40 AM on November 1, 2018

I find it quite amusing that an 11-year-old is reading this debate between ourselves about whether they should be allowed to be a part of this community.

Of course they are already here. The question isn't exactly whether they should be allowed, as there is no age test for registration so they already are in a de facto sense, but whether participation by children is something we want to encourage, welcome, and explicitly condone.
posted by Miko at 5:56 AM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Of course they are already here
So what are we talking about?
Do I hear the sounds of a helicopter?
whether participation by children is something we want to encourage, welcome, and explicitly condone.
I don’t have a problem with this at all. I would welcome their views and insights. From the mouths of babes as it were.
posted by unliteral at 6:32 AM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

There have, in the distant past, been issues when children have joined and had a difficult time with the general tenor of the place (not with commenting and whatnot but just the overall "Hey you have an account here, it is your account, you have to keep it, we won't change the username, delete old stuff randomly, let you close and open it over and over" etc). Which is not to say that there aren't, may not be, children who are mature enough to manage these things, but that many aren't. Also, to be lawyerly, children can not be a part of a legal contract. Which means all the mumbo jumbo about copyright (and the larger issues we presume people are paying attention to) get a lot fuzzier. MeFi doesn't ask ages on sign up (and doesn't have a terms of service or a privacy policy) so technically while your kid could sign up, it might also, potentially, especially after this MeTa thread, cause problems for the site, not just for your kid.

I don't care if a child who is interested writes what I read. But I do assume I am in a community of, generally speaking, grown-ups. While I personally certainly don't care if there are a few children here--and definitely understand the "MeFi was/is my surrogate parent" comments--I feel like there should be a small disincentive to signing up any more children which is to say "if you have to ask, the answer should probably be no"
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 6:57 AM on November 1, 2018 [16 favorites]

I can't help but wonder what folks who have feelings about a younger user's consumption of threads (fucking fuck, politics, gender, sex, etc) are objecting to, both practically and developmentally. We can't assume to know the developmental status of this particular 11 year old, nor that of any other 11 year old that might be sitting at a keyboard reading/commenting as we speak. That aside, to assume that a membership/username somehow grants more consumption rights when it doesn't unlock any secret mefi-only forums seems confusing to me. It's up to a child's parents to monitor/restrict consumption and in this case this question seems to be about commenting privileges/laws in particular.

I guess I understand that it's safe and reasonable to assume that a membership may go hand in hand with more consumption but, again, that's an issue for parents to consider.

I dunno, I have little to say against the idea and would leave it up to the parent and/or mods to handle as necessary and as it is prudent. A bit of caution is justified but some encouragement can also be a good thing.

Adult library card, something something, good example, something, learning how to use commas and spell properly, something, cat memes.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:53 AM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

All I know is that if my folks were anywhere near MetaFilter that would be like industrial strength repellent spray to me.
posted by chavenet at 9:08 AM on November 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm unsure about him being a regular user, but as a curveball suggestion, he might make a good moderator when the next position becomes available on the team? His enthusiasm and youthful energy may help him stay on top of even the politics megathreads, even when they are several thousand comments in. Being young he can cover late hours (when there isn't school the next day, and he can do homework or play Fortnight during quiet shift times anyway). And he would be unbiased, and not irredemably tainted by the adult experiences of dating and living with partners, when moderating angry AskMe questions about relationships.

Thinking further, he'd bring more knowledge of contemporary culture and technology which would be useful when moderating some threads. And, he would also be more knowledgeable of slang and its correct use online. While more than a few MeFites are reminiscing (and a few still using) e.g. gramophone-era technology (nothing wrong with that), more usefully he is probably down with the latest emojis to appear on the World Wide Web.

I say give him a trial this winter at moderating MetaFilter. If he knows ColdFusion, even better. MetaFilter has not - yet - hired a moderator born in the current century; why not start now?
posted by Wordshore at 11:08 AM on November 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

While metafilter is better than many other sites on the internet, there's still outbreaks of toxic behaviour and there are some norms here that make my teeth grind.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:15 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you think it would be good for your son then I say go for it. Just let him know he has to pretend to be an adult (so that the mods don't have additional work). While I assume everyone here is an adult I don't know that and it would be really easy for a kid to get an account if they wanted one right now.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:22 PM on November 1, 2018

There is something a little weird, come to think of it, in worrying about a teen joining Metafilter when joining sites like Twitch, Instagram, and whatever else kids use these days, is likely expose them to all kinds of cruddy ideas where there is little to no moderation. Holding Metafilter to some higher standard would, in a way, be suggesting that atmosphere is more appropriate for young people than moderated left-tilted idealism. That doesn't seem a sensible prescription, though I suppose it is fitting enough for the act of showing concern.

While I'm uncertain of what the effect of having teens and adults interacting as peers on a wide scale basis will be, I can't imagine the outcome would be worse for having it happen here in addition to or opposed to those other places.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:39 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

It sounds from signal's post that their kid hasn't been reading for long — that this is less "longtime lurker wants to participate in community" and maybe more "kid thinks the stuff their parent does is cool and wants to monkey around with it."

I think it would be easier to give a wholehearted "Yes, sign them up!" if the kid had been reading for longer, was going to keep reading, and it was just a question of commenting privileges. That's partly because they'd know what they were in for, and partly because they'd already be getting themself exposed to the content we have here (the "Is it bad if they read the fuck thread?" ship would already have sailed).

So another way of dealing with it would be to say "Lurk for a year and we'll see." If they like the content and can see themself contributing, they'll stick around, get a year more mature, and join. If they find some of the content upsetting, they'll figure that out in a way that doesn't involve flaming out in an emotionally hot thread. If they were only ever going to post BUTTS LOL a bunch, they can be the new cortex get bored reading and go do something else.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:13 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

MetaFilter: teens and adults interacting as peers on a wide scale basis


look, it's insanely irresponsible to say "MetaFilter is a fine place for kids to hang out and contribute" and not take significant, possibly legally-mandated steps to make the site a safe place for kids to hang out and contribute

it's like...if your kid wants to try beer, you give them a sip of yours, you don't ask the waiter to bring them their own pint
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:23 PM on November 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

There's a certain self-congratulatory vibe that goes round when Metafilter discusses itself in relationship to other sites. I'm not saying that a kid should be on other sites where there's multiple harassment subcultures going on. But behavior and moderation here by adults isn't always ideal either. So some check-in style guidance is probably a good idea. I'd start with the caveat that you can always walk away from posts where people are understandably frustrated or extremely cynical.

There are also conversations where people are understandably frustrated with "101" level discussions, and a lot of discussions where there's an extended history. So setting an expectation that maybe one should just lurk rather than jump in on an advanced US politics, feminism, LGBTQ, or religion thread with a hottake might be a good idea whether you're 11, 31, or 61.

We're a community of people, who are often nicer than most other social media sites, but on notable occassions, we're not. So like any other form of community engagement adult guidance and mentoring in critical thinking is likely beneficial.

I'd strongly suggest turning favorites off as well, because I think they can bias reading and encourage favorite-bait posting, which he can get everywhere else. Also, we frequently do links to adult or potentially triggering content of varying moods, sometimes without clear warnings. So you might want to talk about that as well.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:47 PM on November 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Man, at eleven you can still get away with playing with lego and action figures! Why would you want to talk to a bunch of dusty old internet fossils?

Hell, he can have my acct and I'll take the lego
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:43 PM on November 1, 2018 [9 favorites]

If the worst thread you can remember has you thinking "I'm not showing that to my 11 year old kid", then there's your answer, because he's going to be able to access all of the site, and Mefites aren't the best at self-control

He can already do this, apart from the profiles, and I've never seen anything irredeemably awful in a profile.

I think opening an account for him without asking about it and without disclosing his age would have been fine. After this public heads-up, not so much.
posted by flabdablet at 1:00 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you make him lurk for a year though, this will have blown over. Nobody will focus on his age unless he brings it to their attention—they'll focus on his behavior, just like with anyone else.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:58 AM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by clavdivs at 4:41 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I can remember people writing some pretty awful stuff in certain threads that just went sour pretty early and repeatedly.

So can I. The point I'm trying to make is that small signal already has access to all that stuff whether he has an account or not, and that the only stuff he would be able to read after opening an account that he can't read right now is inside user profiles.

So unless there are actual examples of user profiles containing toxic sludge, any argument based on whether or not MetaFilter content is appropriate for an 11 year old to read is moo.
posted by flabdablet at 11:11 PM on November 2, 2018

The oldest kid in this house is 14 and reads here as much as I do and has become certain that she never wants to work in an office or for anyone else or live in a city or fall in love or vote because all of that ends in anxiety bitterness and disappointment.

Thanks MF!
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:00 AM on November 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

I realize that any 11 year old with an internet account can read about my history of sexual abuse, my bloody experiences with childbirth and my marriage difficulties while browsing AskMe. Also my Mefi posts about human-bear-sex in literature and a female masturbation app.

But I feel really uncomfortable adressing the community so frankly when I know at least one of the members is known to be 11 years old.

Not saying this is a consistent position to take. But I‘d paradoxically feel a lot more comfortable not being asked.

(I realize a lot of your kids read Metafilter and I don‘t mind my posts being glimpses of the weird adult world for random adolescents. But...)
posted by Omnomnom at 11:30 AM on November 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm with the idea that maybe letting him lurk & maybe share ideas through you is a good idea.

When you're that age a pile-on by adults is no fun.

On the other hand, there are strong arguments on the otherside.

1) When he can hop on reddit and see all sorts of immature, unmodded tomfoolery (let alone more dangerous BS)... it's nice to have a community devoted to quality.

2) Because of that, and we need more of this in the world, maybe it's a good idea to raise them inside such a culture instead of letting them roam the wasteland of reddit. Especially if you're kid's a gamer, gamer communities are the 2nd worst (nazis, being the 1st).

Showing that moderation is good and can be used properly and showing how COMMUNITY works online (because frankly, we all know reddit isn't Community in the same way MeFi is).

There's probably better younger communities for kids, but it would be interesting to have a way to guide the next (next) generation online besides throwing them to the mercy of the corporate overlords.
posted by symbioid at 3:05 PM on November 4, 2018

I was discussing this thread with my partner and we feel that there is a good middle ground. The child obviously is interested in what his parent is, and while they are too young to have their own account, it doesn't mean that they can't have some quality time with the parent reading the site. With a parent's guidance Metafilter can be a great resource for learning about how to interact online with others.
posted by terrapin at 9:02 AM on November 5, 2018

Having the ability to talk back does change your experience.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:16 AM on November 5, 2018

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