Social networking giant Facebook recently announced that they may allow children under 13 years old to create accounts with adult permission and supervision [1]. The plan would supposedly allow parents to link their own accounts directly to their children's so they could control both friend requests and the use of third party applications. It's a marketing-oriented business move for Facebook, as the under-13's are the only demographic they have yet to conquer, with everyone from 14-year-olds and their grandmas already signed up. However, the plan remains extremely controversial for the public.

As far as privacy goes, Facebook is already walking on thin ice, and a federal law (COPPA) prohibits internet companies from collecting personal information about children under 13 without verifiable parental consent. Facebook claims that their new program would comply. A company statement said, "We are in continuous dialogue with stakeholders, regulators and other policymakers about how best to help parents keep their kids safe in an evolving online environment."[2] That's cool, but these days, even full grown adults are concerned about their online privacy. Perhaps we should address the current state of rules and regulations for ourselves before we even consider tackling online privacy for kids under 13!

Legal issues aside, I'm sure you've already formulated your own opinion on the developmental merits of allowing a young child or preteen to sign up for Facebook, but it can't hurt to to review what the experts have to say.

James Steyer, the founder and CEO of Common Sense Media (an advocacy organization for kids and media) makes a strong case against Facebook being the forerunner of such an idea, saying, "There are enormous social, cognitive and development issues that have to be considered (when dealing with social media and kids) and Facebook has no expertise in that area."

Then there is Susan Bartell, psychologist and author of The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask, who thinks that even a highly-controlled Facebook for children would turn into a gateway social network to more vulnerable online behavior. She says, "after a month or two of that ['Baby Facebook'] they're going to be like, "I'm done with that" and will start a regular Facebook, and Tumblr and Twitter and just use a name their parents don't know." (Read the full interview with Styeyer and Bartell here}

I'm no expert, but I don't know any kids under 11 or 12 who would want a Facebook account anyway, but I will confess that when my then 12 year old brother was disgruntled because he was 1 year short of being eligible for an account, I just told him to lie about his age, and it worked swimmingly. It begs the question: If young preteens are sneaking around online already, would this "Baby Facebook" even make a difference? The kids who truly desire an account probably already have an "illegal" one, and in that case the parents should be accountable, not Facebook.

I'm not saying I support the idea, but this issue points to many other problems, and I think we should reevaluate the way we socialize from the bottom up before proceeding. All of us, both kids and adults, should be spending more time outdoors, together, talking face to face anyway. I think it's just too soon to even address the opening of social networks to children so young when we can't even master our own privacy problems.


Would you allow your under-13 child to sign up for Facebook, assuming you could control their friend requests and the apps they use?

The poll was created at 00:45 on June 17, 2012, and so far 16 people voted.

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