According to Consumer Reports, nearly 40-percent of the 20 million minors who were active on Facebook last year failed to meet minimum age requirements. When it comes to the social media behemoth, one must be at least 13 years of age before they open their own accounts. However, data from Consumer Reports says that 7.5 million children bypassed that hurdle in 2010 with full parental support.
“Despite Facebook’s age requirements, many kids are using the site who shouldn’t be,” says Jeff Fox, Technology Editor for Consumer Reports.
Among the households surveyed for their study, Consumer Reports discovered that more than 5 million of the 7.5 million kids missing the age limit were aged 10 and under.
“What’s even more troubling was the finding from our survey that indicated that a majority of parents of kids 10 and under seemed largely unconcerned by their children’s use of the site,” Fox added.
It isn’t as if Facebook is unaware of the problem. In March, Mozelle Thompson, Facebook’s chief privacy advisor, told Australia’s Federal Parliament's cyber-safety committee that the social giant removes nearly 20,000 accounts per day for age restriction violations. [Source]
Many experts say that a child’s Internet usage should be monitored, not taken away, but allowing kids to access the social portal before the age of 13 could lead to problems. However, as the survey shows, no two parents are the same. Some are comfortable with their children having their own account, either for games or contact with family and friends.
If you are unsure, it’s possible to protect a child from the risks associated with the Web and social media. A parent just needs to take some basic precautions.
For example, if you have a child on Facebook, make sure you can access their account, and add yourself to their friends list. While avoiding the temptation to embarrass them with baby photos, ensure that they are not posting sensitive information to their profiles.
Explain why they shouldn’t post too much personal information, and why it can sometimes expose them to needless risk.
Information such as addresses, phone numbers, email, and IM accounts should be missing from your child’s account. Likewise, lock the profile down. This includes removing it from search results, and limiting almost all visible information to anyone not on the friends list.
Moreover, be sure to opt out of things like Instant Personalization. When it comes to applications, make sure you as a parent know what is used, and how it interacts with their profile.
Also, warn your child against needlessly following links. If they follow them anyway, remind them that surveys are usually scams, and handing over personal information only sends money to the person running the scam. There are no shocking Bieber videos, and no such thing as a free iPad 2 on Facebook.
Adding some basic setting changes to boost profile security is a huge step forward to protecting your kids. The catch here is to follow the rules and enforce them. If a child is under the age of 13, Facebook prohibits them from having their own account. At the same time, if they are 13, the basic setting changes allow them a chance to experience and learn from social media with lowered risk.
As a parent, you might have heard about the “cyber-bully” threat online. Kids fight and say cruel things to one another, but if you are talking with your kids and are part of their lives online, you can take action and deal with the bullies together.
That’s the key. The best protection for kids on and offline is their parents, who should become – and remain – involved in their child’s life. Communication is the key, and it has to go both ways.
Most of the tips mentioned in this story assume that a parent is at least familiar with, if not already on, Facebook. For those who are new to Facebook, arm yourself with some information. The following links are a solid start: