Recent data suggests that as many as 7.5 million Facebook users are under 13 and that two thirds of these underage users are younger than 10 years old. These figures are staggering and continue to rise, despite the fact that Facebook has a 13-and-over age limit in the US and across Europe, with the exception of Spain, where you have to be over 14 to set up an account.
Facebook, like other similar websites, established this age limit in response to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, of 1998 and a regulation within it, called the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule, which took effect April 21, 2000. These regulations only require websites to obtain affirmative consent from parents before children under 13 can create an account, but Facebook decided to ban this age group altogether.
So how do preteens get on Facebook? Most of them simply lie about their age and some actually get help from their parents when setting up their accounts. And that’s not surprising, considering the fact that once kids have made up their mind about something, they’re likely to do it eventually, with or without the parent’s consent.
So don’t feel bad if you’re thinking about allowing your underage kid to get on Facebook. Just take your time and think about it before you make your final decision. As you’ll see bellow, there’s more than their online privacy at stake:
Privacy violations are more likely than with older kids. Younger children are more willing to post personal information on social media because they do not fully understand the consequences of sharing details about themselves.
They’re more exposed to inappropriate content. Being easily impressionable makes preteens more eager to click on links and ads that could lead them to questionable websites, photos and videos.
They’re not ready to deal with cyber-bullies. Younger kids are especially sensitive and find it difficult to put up with name-calling or other types of abuse.
Online strangers could approach them. Social media sites make it easy for ill-intentioned people to find and contact children. The younger the children, the more easily they can be persuaded to give away specific information about themselves and even show up to meet them in person.
They could be distracted from school-related activities. It’s no news that Facebook is addictive at any age, but it’s even more so for your preteen. And cognitive psychologists are starting to look into young kids’ interaction on social media and the first results are not good: the more they use it, the worse they do in school.
There are of course some positive influences linked to social networking and they’re probably the reasons why we see so many kids joining Facebook these days: “virtual empathy” develops more quickly; introverted kids can learn to socialize online and benefit from the learning opportunities that come with the online environment.
If you decide to allow your underage kids to join Facebook, you need to get involved in the process and make sure they are as safe as possible:
Help them set up their account and make it as private as possible. Go over the procedure together and explain each step and security setting you make, to assure them that you’re trying to help them stay safe, not snoop or meddle in their business.
Set up a content sharing policy. You need to make it very clear that they should not give out their full name, address, school, age or any other personal information. Review each photo they plan to upload to make sure it doesn’t contain any information that could lead strangers to your kids’ school or hang out places. Check out the photos that have your children “tagged” in them and if they’re not ok “untagg” them, ask for the photo to be deleted or even report the author.
Monitor your kids’ activity. You can do this either by using their accounts or by setting up one for yourself and “friending” them. Make sure your children only accept and send friend requests to people they know in real life and keep an eye on what they and their friends are sharing. But never post anything on their wall! That would be inappropriate interfering, and make them eager to shut you out.
Get an internet security suite that comes with a parental control feature. You cannot stand next to your children every time they log on their Facebook account, nor should you, if you want to keep the lines of communication open. So you need a helping hand to keep them safe when they’re alone on the Internet. The Parental Control feature in BullGuard Internet Security 12 is the unobtrusive tool that allows you to set up schedules for the time they spend online, prevent them from accessing shady websites or content and stop them from giving out personal information.
Although there are no guarantees when it comes to socializing online, if you take these simple precautions you can keep your children out of serious trouble. However, you probably won’t get out of nagging them about doing their homework and their chores around the house.