Social Network: Under 13

Written by A. Noelle

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle posed the question: “Can social networks keep kids safe?” This was in response to this week’s New York Times report of three separate sexual assault cases, involving underage users of the adult dating app, Skout.

Last year, a teen-only section, providing additional safeguards and parental controls, was added to the app when it was discovered that kids were accessing the service despite the age-restriction – a common practice not unknown to many of today’s technologically savvy social networkers. Consumer Reports have discovered that millions of minors already access sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, since the ban on all children under 13 is a difficult one to enforce – “[there] are an estimated 7.5 million kids under 13 on Facebook, out of more than 900 million users worldwide” (AP).

Image: Poonsap

Facebook has announced its own plans for under-13 access earlier this month, “developing technology that would allow children younger than 13 to use the site under parental supervision” (WSJ). Since some kids have taken to lying about their ages on the site in order to create their own profiles and bypass the current age-restriction (there are even some parents who have assisted in this process), Facebook intends to allow kids the freedom of networking without the need to lie. The company has been testing ways to connect the accounts of kids under 13 to their parents’ accounts, enabling parents to decide who their kids “friend” and what applications they use.

Unfortunately, it is clear that added precautions provided for children aged 13-17 were not enough to prevent the abuses involved with Skout. Although startled and confused Skout managers were certain that they had implemented adequate safeguards, it may be safe to say that it’s not enough to simply tack on extra protections to a service that is primarily intended for adult use. While changes to Facebook’s policies on accessibility might make it seem as though children under 13 are being granted a safer means of social networking, what’s to stop the children from simply choosing to lie about their age in order to gain access to the raw, adult version of Facebook? What child would opt for parental control and a restriction of services? James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, comments:

It’s common sense. This is what happens when sites and apps designed for adults open to children. […] They don’t understand this market well enough to create an age-appropriate experience, nor can they provide the protections that teens and children need.

Donna Rice Hughes, the chief executive of Enough is Enough, an online service that offers information to parents about online safety for children, suggests that sites open to use by children be established with an aim for child safety; it’s not enough to provide additional protections to a service primarily designed for adults. Such quick-solution tactics only open the door for abuse of the services.

The precautions should start before children under the age of 13 turn on the computer. Parents need to take the responsibility and discuss online dangers with their kids. Start with a talk. Monitor the activity. And be the parental control – the parent in control.

Below are the top five tips, provided by ePals, to keeping your kids engaged in safe social networking:

1. Understand the differences between consumer social media and social learning platforms.

“Social media tools for education take into account the safety and privacy of students and teachers and are focused on social learning, not just being social.”

2. Steer kids to safe and secure social networking sites.

“Find social networking sites with the TRUSTe seal and that have active tools such as content and language filters. Ensure that forums are screened for appropriate material that creates a safe and secure online environment. Only allow your kids to visit sites that are actively monitored to ensure a safe environment for kids.”

3. Prevent Cyberbullying.

“Teach your child how to recognize and avoid cyber bullies. Only allow your children to access sites where parents, guardians and teachers have the ability to set access levels. Should a student come across a cyber bully make sure they know to report it to a trusted adult – just like they would with a playground bully.” To read more about the dangers of Cyberbullying, click here.

4. Keep kids connected to learning over the summer, and extend summer reading activities.

“One of the biggest dangers of social networking is the potential to waste endless hours of time – make sure the social networking site your children use offers constructive learning experiences.”

5. Encourage your child/student to engage safely with and learn from students from other cultures around the world.

“To prepare children for the challenges and opportunities they face in our increasingly interconnected world, safe, social learning tools can help connect schools and students across the globe. K-12 social learning platforms now offer embedded language translation technology to help students break down language barriers and improve their language skills.”

To read the San Francisco Chronicle post, click here.

To read the New York Times report, click here.

Websites to visit:

What are some of your tips for protecting your kids online? Would you allow your children to use social networking sites if they’re still under 13? Please, share your thoughts in the comments section!



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