A while back, Consumer Reports revealed that of Facebook’s hundreds of millions of members, a startling 7.5 million of them are underage. To follow on the heels of this growing trend, another recent survey of 1,000+ parents by Microsoft and academic researchers found that not only are parents aware of their kids joining, but are helping them lie about their birthdates.
The survey of parents with kids aged 10-14 found that 50 percent of parents have kids with Facebook accounts, even though the required age is 13. Three quarters of parents of kids on the older end of the age range (13 and 14) reported that their kids use the site, while almost 20 percent of parents stated that their 10-year-olds had Facebook accounts and were using the site as well.
How do these young children get access to Facebook? According to the survey, 64 percent of parents helped their kids create accounts. And among the parents who thought there was a minimum age for Facebook, only 45 percent knew that the actual age is 13, some thinking that it was either 16 or 18, which makes a 10-year-old with an account even more far from the requirement.
There’s a current federal law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that is intended on protecting children’s online privacy and limiting the kind of information that sites can collect on kids that are under the age of 13. While recognized for its protective intent, this study criticizes the outdated law and promotes its survey findings that 93 percent of parents “overwhelmingly” believe that they should have the final say about what their child can do online. Only three percent said that the sites themselves should, and two percent said that the government should.
There are many sites out there that continue to follow COPPA – Facebook, Gmail, Skype, as the study states – but many of these sites are widely used by underage kids as well, knowingly by their parents. But does COPPA do more harm than good? Study authors conclude:
“Instead of providing more tools to help parents and their children make informed choices, industry responses to COPPA have neglected parental preferences and have altogether restricted what is available for children to access. As a result, many parents now knowingly allow or assist their children in circumventing age restrictions on general–purpose sites through lying. By creating this environment, COPPA inadvertently hampers the very population it seeks to assist and forces parents and children to forgo COPPA’s protection and take greater risks in order to get access to the educational and communication sites they want to be part of their online experiences.”
It’s a double-edged sword. While parents want the protection of knowing that their young kids are safe online, they also want them to have the freedom to explore it – and the ability to decide when and how their kids dive in. There are many known risks of young kids being online (sexting, Facebook depression, online predators), but if monitored in a responsible way, how big is that risk? It’s an ongoing conversation and one that parents need to be a part of.
If your underage child wanted to get a Facebook account, would you help?
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