I was struck by a status update that I saw on a forum a couple of days ago where an Irish primary teacher said that of the 31 children in her 4th class, 25 admitted to having a Facebook account with their parents’ knowledge. I decided to check with some teachers on Twitter to see about their own experiences. From the feedback, it seems that this was not an isolated classroom.
Most social media sites do not allow children under the age of 13 to use them. There are a number of reasons for this (mainly to do with COPPA – the Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act. COPPA protects a child’s personal information from being collected and shared) but another less legalistic reason is that young children are not mature enough to deal with the problems that can come with social media such as cyberbullying.
According to Natasha Burgert from KC Kids Doc, pre-teens are just beginning to navigate the challenges of real-life social interactions. Burgert believes that these youngsters don’t have the reasoning ability to deal with online harassment, solicitation, and cyberbullying.
Burgert also believes that children already know the “Under 13 rule” so by helping them online, a parent is suggesting that it’s OK to do things even if the law says you’re too young to do them. Fast forward a few years when a parent is trying to deal with alcohol, etc. What argument does a parent have trying to debate age-based laws when it doesn’t suit?
However, some would argue that by giving their young child a Facebook account, that they are giving their child valuable lessons of Internet usage. Do they need Facebook for this? Can these lessons be taught offline or by good role modelling?
Kim Garst from the Huffington Post thinks social media should be taught to children in schools. Garst says that social media is here and it is here to stay so we have to teach children about it. In Ireland, we do this through Web Wise though the under 13 rule makes it difficult for primary teachers to do anything useful as they certainly cannot break the law.
Whatever parents think, I believe, if they have to allow their children to use social media, they need to be ok themselves with the risks they are opening up to their children. Firstly, there’s the lie. To sign up your child, you have to lie about his/her date of birth. At very least, a moral discussion is needed here. If you get past this, communication is key. The American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry has a number of suggestions but keep in mind these are aimed at teenagers. If you are allowing your child to have a social media account, you should make them aware of:
- The rules in your household on social networking sites
- The monitoring you will do on their internet usage
- The limits on time allowed on these sites that may occur if their usage interferes with family time or external social activities.
Sadly, there are lots of children under 13 who have social media accounts without their parents’ knowledge or have unfiltered and unsupervised access to the Internet. Allowing a child free access to the Internet is the equivalent of letting the same child out of the house unsupervised and free to roam the streets wherever he/she wishes. Sure, 99% of places they will go to will be safe, but it’s that wrong turn that could lead them somewhere unsafe and that’s exactly what can happen on the Internet. A quick example of a situation that could easily unfold. Picture a little girl watching Barbie videos on YouTube. Once the video she likes ends, YouTube suggests some more videos and she clicks on these. All is fine until one of the suggestions is far from safe. You can guess the rest.
If parents are going to let their young children use social media, they need to really think about the repercussions. At worst, parents could be accused of neglecting their children by allowing them to be put in such unsafe positions so it’s worth really thinking about how and when we introduce social media to our children despite the peer pressure out there. While 25 out of 31 of those 10 year olds were Facebooking, there were 6 that weren’t. There’s a lesson in that somewhere.
Note: thanks to all the #edchatie teachers for their help today in compiling the data for this article.
Last Update: August 8, 2017