Facebook may soon allow 8-year-olds to join
Last year, I wrote about allowing my 12-year-old son to join Facebook in violation of the social media site’s rule prohibiting anyone under age 13 to join. Now, however, Facebook is considering allowing kids on the site -- without any age restrictions.
As the Wall Street Journal first reported, “Mechanisms being tested include connecting children’s accounts to their parents’ and controls that would allow parents to decide whom their kids can ‘friend’ and what applications they can use.”
A Facebook spokesperson told me via email that the company is in “continuous dialogue” with government regulators over how to “help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment,” but also added that Facebook had nothing to announce and hasn’t made any decisions on whether to drop the age restriction.
Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician who heads the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, told me he’d be in favor of Facebook lifting its age ban. “I think this would allow parents to be more involved in their kids social media.” He likened it to a learner’s permit for new drivers where parents can supervise while their kids learn to navigate the online networking world.
And parents who currently allow their underage kids to join Facebook would no longer have to give tacit permission for them to falsify their age to gain access. Some 7.5 million children under age 13 are already Facebook users, according to a 2011 survey conducted by Consumer Reports. That means they had to lie about their age to join, often with the consent of their parents.
Facebook would have to comply with a federal law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act that prohibits them from collecting or sharing any personal information they gather from a child under 13 -- which would require them to revamp their current policies for older users.
If that goes hand in hand with tighter monitoring capabilities for parents, said Rich, kids could benefit big time. “Parents need to understand what’s going on and to exert decision making that their kids haven’t developed yet in the executive function areas of their brain.”
In other words, they might be encouraged to start parenting better in the online world -- if they get alerts about their kid’s status updates and friend requests -- helping their child steer clear of cyber-bullying, sexting, or flash mob outings to the mall.
”It’s a great opportunity, if done right, for Facebook to get out in front on this issue,” Rich said, “instead of creating an environment for kids to go wild.”Deborah Kotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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