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Age Restrictions on Social Media

Age Restrictions on Social Media

Author: Patricia , Last Modified, 2017-10-08

Myrkur the dark folk

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Schools and organisations across the country observe National Bullying Prevention Month. The goal is to put an end to bullying and cyber-bullying tragedies like those that contribute to self harm and or suicides of young people.

While stories of cyberbullying are covered widely by the press, rarely covered is that victims and perpetrators are often under the minimum age required to use mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, where a lot of bullying reportedly takes place.

The minimum age to open an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest is 13. For Vine and Tinder it's 17. YouTube requires account holders to be 18, but a 13-year-old can sign up with a parent's consent. Despite these clearly stated and published age restrictions, large and growing numbers of children 12 and under are using social media networks, often with their parent's consent.

According to research some 59% of children have already used a social network by the time they are 10. Facebook has the most users under the age of 13, 52 per cent of 8 to 16-year-olds admit they ignore Facebook's age restriction. You don't have to conduct a study to know that young kids under 13 are flocking to sites like Instagram, for example, to post and share photos, and to collect likes from their friends. Instagram tries to make it difficult for young kids to sign up by providing a birthday picker that doesn't let a new user select an age under 13. Regardless, kids easily make up fake birthdays and use their parents iTunes account to download Instagram to their own devices.

In short, as a society we have largely given up, giving age restrictions a collective shrug and so what? But, guess what? Age does matter, and here's why:

Children's personal information is at risk. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) passed in 1998 protects every child under the age of 13. The Act requires that operators of websites and online services provide notice and obtain permission from a child's parents before collecting personal information such as name, address, phone number and screen name from that child. Companies also cannot collect location data that could identify the city street, and any image, video or audio files containing the child's image or voice. Anything that can identify what the child is using, like cookies, IP addresses or the unique device identifier (UDID) for mobile devices is restricted by COPPA. But COPPA doesn't work if a 9-year-old claims they are 13. When a social network account is created for a child under 13, or when a child uses a false birth date, the law cannot protect their personal information from being collected and shared with third party advertisers.

Children under 13 don't have the hardware upstairs to make smart decisions online.
Just because kids seem tech-savvy at increasingly younger ages, doesn't necessarily mean that their brains are developing at the same rate as their digital acumen. Research shows that it takes children about 12 years to fully develop the cognitive structures that enable them to engage in ethical thinking. Before 12 it's difficult, if not impossible, for a child to fully grasp the impact of their actions upon others, online or otherwise. Yet young children are increasingly joining social networking sites, sometimes even putting themselves in harm's way by becoming victims of online harassment, solicitation, and cyber-bullying before they are ready to respond appropriately.

Lying is just plain wrong. Living in a civilised society means we have some implicit agreements: we take turns, play fair, stop at red lights, and hold the door open for old ladies and we tell the truth, sure. Giving a fake birth dates to Facebook seems like a harmless white lie, but it's a lie nonetheless. I'd like to believe we can all agree that honesty and truthfulness, online and off, is important.

Finally, if your young child simply MUST have a social life online, then there are plenty of safe alternatives designed specifically for younger users like Club Penguin, WebKinz, and Whyville. Each of these offer restricted and supervised networking.

So, let's support National Bullying Prevention by doing whatever we can to end cyber-bullying. Even if that means telling our young ones that Instagram and Snapchat can wait.

Patricia

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Age Restrictions on Social Media

Age Restrictions on Social Media

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