4 tips to help your kid stay stafe on Facebook

How young is too young for Facebook? The rules say no one under 13, but many parents seem to disagree

Facebook says you need to be 13 to have an account, but – rules be damned!! Many 11 and 12 year-olds are already using the social network, and, here’s a surprising little tidbit: Their parents are helping them create the account!

This is according to research out this month from the Internet journal First Monday. Researchers polled 1,007 parents of children between the ages of 10 and 14 about how they feel with regard to Internet-age restrictions.

Among their findings:

– Parents of 13- and 14-year-olds said, on average, their child joined Facebook at age 12.
– More than half of the parents of 12-year-olds said their child had a Facebook account; 82 percent of those parents knew when their child signed up; 76 percent assisted their 12-year-old in creating the account.
– More than three-quarters of parents said it was acceptable for their child to violate minimum-age restrictions on online services.

This goes against rules created by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), legislation passed several years ago which seeks to empower parents by requiring commercial Web site operators to obtain parental consent before collecting data from children under 13. But apparently, many parents with kids under 13 think their children can handle themselves on Facebook and are actually letting them fudge their birthdate in order to create a profile.

The authors of this study point out that many parents know, and are even enabling, their kids to get on Facebook prior to the age of 13. They say things like “all of my daughter’s friends are already on Facebook.”

I’ll let you read the study yourself to draw your own conclusions about whether or not you think kids under 13 should be on Facebook. But let me weigh in with my opinion, as your friendly Cyber Savvy Mom.

If you think your child is ready to use Facebook at an age that is younger than 13, that is your opinion, and I don’t think it is right or wrong. You know what your child is capable of and should act accordingly.

But, keep in mind the risks that exist once your child is on Facebook; where they will share information about themselves with other “friends” in their network. They will share photos, videos, thoughts, at times even their location. And there are no guarantees each “friend” will be who they say they are. Fake profiles are created all the time on Facebook. There are also scams all over the network that can trap unsuspecting members. Children would be very vulnerable to falling into some of these traps. Check out my list of scams to recognize the common traps.

That said, there are several steps I think parents need to take before allowing their kid, regardless of age, to create a profile on any site. Here are my basic recommended steps to encourage secure behavior on Facebook.

1.)    Use the network yourself: If you are familiar with the inner workings of Facebook and Twitter, you are more able to know what can go on, what mistakes can be made, what information kind of can be shared, and give advice based on first-hand knowledge. You run less of a risk of seemingly like the “lame parent” who “just doesn’t get it” if you are using the networks yourself.

2.)    Insist they give you their password, check it regularly: It is one thing to tell them you need to have their password. That’s a great first step. But then you need to do regularly, random check ins with to ensure that the one they gave you is still the actual password. If they have changed it without consulting you, that is grounds for losing computer privileges.

3.)    Keep computer use to common areas of the home: Children are more likely to engage in unsafe and questionable behaviors and conversations online when they are along. Computer use, particularly online activity, needs to take place in an area where the entire family is typically located.

4.) Have regular conversations: Talk with your child openly and regularly about issues such as cyber bullying, safe and responsible computer use and don’t be afraid to speak frankly about the type of people that can lurk on social networks, interactive games and chat boards looking for kids to target. Knowledge is power. You’re not trying to scare them, but they also need to be prepared for how to react if they are manipulated online by someone, or bullied by another peer.

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