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02 November 2011

Why Parents Help Tweens Violate Facebook's 13+ Rule

Yesterday, Danah Boyd (Senior researcher, Microsoft Research and Research Assistant Professor, New York University) published an article in the Huffington Post titled "Why Parents Help Tweens Violate Facebook's 13+ Rule".

Ms.Boyd describes the well known statistics concerning children under 13 on Facebook, their relation to the US COPA law (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act ) and the research she and her colleagues did about that data:

"My collaborators and I decided to focus on one core question: Does COPPA actually empower parents? In order to do so, we surveyed parents about their household practices with respect to social media and their attitudes towards age restrictions online. From a national sample of 1,007 U.S. parents who have children living with them between the ages of 10-14 conducted July 5-14, 2011, we found:
  • Although Facebook's minimum age is 13, parents of 13- and 14-year-olds report that, on average, their child joined Facebook at age 12.
  • Half (55%) of parents of 12-year-olds report their child has a Facebook account, and most (82%) of these parents knew when their child signed up. Most (76%) also assisted their 12-year old in creating the account.
  • A third (36%) of all parents surveyed reported that their child joined Facebook before the age of 13, and two-thirds of them (68%) helped their child create the account.
  • Half (53%) of parents surveyed think Facebook has a minimum age and a third (35%) of these parents think that this is a recommendation and not a requirement.
  • Most (78%) parents think it is acceptable for their child to violate minimum age restrictions on online services."

She points out that
"Rather than reinforcing or extending a legal regime that produces age-based restrictions which parents actively circumvent, we need to step back and rethink the underlying goals behind COPPA and develop new ways of achieving them. This begins with a public conversation about what it means to parent in a digital world."
She is writing from the US; her audience is mainly Americans who could be in touch with their law makers.  (In Britain, the site is banned for children under 13 under a voluntary "good practice code".)

Those of us outside the US are interested in this discussion because most of the websites we use with our students (and our own children) are based in the US, or another country which follows strict child protection laws.  Everyone's decisions affect all of us.  Read the whole article, which includes very interesting, graphic charts.

For more information on our findings and their implications for policy makers, see "Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age: Unintended Consequences of the 'Children's Online Privacy Protection Act'" by danah boyd, Eszter Hargittai, Jason Schultz, and John Palfrey, published in First Monday.

You can read more about this issue at these web pages:
Should Kids Be Allowed on Facebook?
Facebook's 7.5 Million Underage Users Are Largely Unsupervised: Consumer Reports Survey
7.5 Million Facebook Users Are Below the Minimum Age

From The Huffington Post articleImage Credit: Tim Roe  
What do you think? Where do you fall on this chart? How does this discussion fit into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? A child has...
"...the right to love and understanding, preferably from parents and family, but from the government where these cannot help.
... the right to go to school for free, to play, and to have an equal chance to develop yourself and to learn to be responsible and useful. Your parents have special responsibilities for your education and guidance.
...(a child) should be taught peace, understanding, tolerance and friendship among all people."
(Taken from the Declaration of the Rights of the Child Plain Language Version)