The minimum age for many social media sites is 13 years. Amendments to current COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) legislation are being introduced in an attempt to tackle the use of social media by underage children. Originally introduced in 2000, COPPA states that websites cannot collect information about users under 13 years of age without parental consent, this includes providing access to interactive websites and applications which could enable them to share information with others. Therefore websites have to either incorporate a method of collecting parental consent or forbid the use of the site by any users under 13 years of age (as Facebook has opted to do). Although a US law, this could still apply to international sites that may be accessed by underage US users.
Despite this, underage users are still prevalent on social media and many of these children use social media with their parents permission!
This may be surprising, especially considering findings by the PEW Internet and American Life Project in 2011. PEW Research found that over half of the parents in their study were very concerned about their child talking to strangers online, and just under 20% were somewhat concerned. Therefore suggesting that the vast majority of parents are worried about their child’s online interaction with unknown others. Parents were also concerned about how their child’s social media use could affect future opportunities (e.g., employment) or damage their social reputation.
If they are so concerned, why do some parents allow – and even actively help – their underage children to use social media?
Some parents may feel that their child will miss out on social opportunities or be alienated at school if they do not have access to social media. It is now a major part of a child’s social existence and a main form of interaction with their peers.
Also, by allowing their child to access social media, the parent has knowledge of which sites the child is using (e.g., Facebook, Twitter etc) and this enables the parent to monitor their child’s use and potentially watch the information that the child shares online. If parents forbid social media, there is the worry that their child will still access it without their knowledge and therefore the parent has no control over the situation.
The PEW research findings show that almost 40% of parents have helped their child to set up the privacy settings on their social media account, 59% had talked to their child about concerns over specific material that they had shared on their social media profile and nearly 90% have discussed what type of activities their child does online. This suggests that parents may be trying to make the best of the situation by allowing their children to interact with their peers but also trying to maintain a degree or control over the situation in a bid to limit the negative effects of social media use.
What are your thoughts?
Are you a parent, or if you were, do/would you allow your child to access social media? What age do/would you allow this from?
Do/would you monitor your child’s activity online? How do/would you achieve this?