How Young is Too Young for Kids to Start Social Networking?

| March 24, 2011 | 7 Comments
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Lars Plougman

What’s the appropriate age to start logging onto social networking sites? According to the Terms of Service for Facebook, at least, the answer is 13.

But that doesn’t stop thousands of younger children from signing up. According to Facebook’s chief privacy adviser Mozelle Thompson, Facebook removes about 20,000 users a day who are underage.

Should parents allow their under-13 kids to sign up on Facebook?

That figure was revealed during testimony to the Australian parliament’s cyber-safety committee, reports The Daily Telegraph. Australia is considering legislation that would require teens to get parental permission before joining Facebook.

As it stands, Facebook policy simply recommends that minors 13 or older get their parents’ permission. Those younger than 13 are forbidden outright. But as Thompson testified: “There are people who lie. There are people who are under 13 [accessing Facebook].”

That age cut-off isn’t arbitrary. It keeps Facebook in line with COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires that Internet sites that allow those under 13 to join secure parental permission.

But as a recent New York Times article quipped, “the fake ID has gone digital, and spread to elementary school.” That story suggests that the 20,000 youngsters booted from Facebook daily are really just the tip of the iceberg, citing research from the web analysis company Comscore, that over 3.6 million of Facebook’s 153 million monthly visitors from the U.S. are under age.

There are social networking sites aimed specifically at this age group. Togetherville, which was recently acquired by Disney, is designed for children under 10. Disney also operates Club Penguin which targets those 6-14.

Togetherville stresses the importance of teaching children about safety online by introducing them to a social networking site where their parents can monitor their interactions and control who they “friend.” The idea addresses concerns about younger children and teens on Facebook — fears that they’ll be preyed upon or they’ll misbehave.

But will kids be interested in Togetherville or Club Penguin when their friends and family are on Facebook? Should parents be complicit in signing up their under-13 kids on Facebook? Some feel strongly that parents should set the right example for digital citizenship by following set rules and guidelines, and those who feel that allowing kids to navigate the social networking world will provide valuable lessons through practice.

We’d love to hear thoughts from parents and educators about their approach.

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  • gcactiv

    There’s a new kids (aged 8 – 14) social networking site, imbee.com – not only do they have chat and other communication features, but online games, original short series content, with solid security features and much more – Togetherville still targets relatively young kids, but imbee’s the future of kids social networking – I’d check ‘em out!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OASRQGQCDQXJ7C5Y6WGEDATCOI Charles Conway

    Is it actually illegal in the UK for kids to access Facebook, and for their parents to let them?

    http://t.co/BEnswvCi

  • http://twitter.com/dd_dienutza Diana Abu-Zuaiter

    I think it is all about education and parent monotoring. Children are the reason why extreme cases of bulying exist. We all know Megan Meier who committed suicide because of being bullied by her peers. If her parent would have been aware the problem perhaps wouldn’t have had ended like this. Many more examples are based on the same conclusion. It is relatively impossible to monitor social media and to know who actually registers for an account but the simplest way to go is to convince parents how wrong social media turn for their child without education and parent monitoring. Check out this post and share your view: http://ethicalblabbing.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=269&action=edit

  • Darryl Hein

    I don’t believe we will know these answers for some time. As new services are offered that focus on a child safety and privacy whilst allowing little ones to communicate and interact with each other online, there is no reason why social networking would not go hand in hand with learning to read and write.
    It seems to me that it might accelerate the process and be a great teaching tool and incentive to learn.

    Speaking in term of human communication: interpersonal, small and large group (I was a communications major)….these are some really exciting and interesting times.

    Maybe not since the creation of the printing press have we seen such change.

    I am, however, not a parent and will keep my mouth shut in regards to the practicality of young ones engaging in such activities. I would imagine it if very difficult to get all those cracker crumbs out of the keyboard!

  • Carolyn C

    It is hard to keep kids off social networking sites because of the other parents who allow or do not know their children are on. At 12 I let my kids on instagram, but monitor the postings and usage time. I am not completely comfortable but with their 8 year old cousins on it, it felt wrong and almost punishing to keep them off. But they have rules – they can only follow and be followed by people they know and their profiles are private. And if they break the rules, they have a strong warning that their account will be deleted. We have had many discussions about predators so their is no question as to why we are so strict about it. Forget Facebook for a while – with the impulsivity, immature judgement skills and exposure to all sorts of subject matter (and of course predators) of kids and teens – even my honor student – the longer I can hold them off, the better…

  • AutumnsGram

    I think it’s wrong for parents to allow under 13 children to join…and they do. They have to fabricate a birthday to do that, and parents are teaching their kids that lying is acceptable behavior.

  • Krista K

    Tried my best to keep my middle school child off! He *hid* profile, lied about age, blocked me, other adults we knew, etc. Luckily, I’m savvy and kept checking and finding. Then, he created his own MESS with his postings is now going through HS with a reputation he wished he did not have. Currently, at the ripe old age of 15, he is practicing no social networking thinking of a college/employment future. Unfortunate life lesson, but the lesson is better learned at a younger age than ruining his life/career later. Parents must be vigilant and recruit friends for searches!