Our family rules are posted on the wall in our house. Yes, that's them right there, and please note that the very first rule is "Always tell the truth."
I firmly believe that honesty is the best policy. I don't like lying, and that is one reason why my 12-year-old does not have accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Ask.fm, Snapchat, and the rest of social media.
Users must be 13-year-old per the terms of service posted on each site. Those terms of service are the rules. 13 is standard age requirement for social media accounts, with a few exceptions. Although not phrased as a requirement, Twitter says, "Our Services are not directed to persons under 13 . . . If we become aware that a child under 13 has provided us with personal information, we take steps to remove such information and terminate the child's account."
Telling my child that I'm completely fine with her lying about her age condones lying online. Why should I be okay with that being her very first act on social media?
And I am certainly not going to lie for her and set up an account.
Fudging an age to get an account is a very dangerous precedent to set. It sends the message that lying online is okay, that you can work your way around the rules or don't have to follow them at all, and that bending the truth is fine if it serves your purposes
And saying that lying is okay because everyone else has an account? Seriously?
Don't even get me started. Following the masses, even if what they are doing wrong, is not okay, and our kids need to hear that message, loud and clear.
I have frequently compared letting kids online to driving a car. It requires education, practice, some time in a safe environment like an empty parking lot where it is understood that there will be a few mistakes, and understanding that it's not a good idea to head out on the highway right off the bat.
Keeping with that metaphor, we don't give our kids the car keys at age 14 or 15 and say "I don't care what the law says, I think you're ready. Go for it, son!" (At least, I really hope that doesn't happen on my city streets. Shudder.) So why would we do the same with social media?
I know some people say that they let their children get social media accounts before they reached the age requirement because they felt that they were more teachable. My concern is that doing so does teach them - it teaches that lying is acceptable in your book.
There are reasons that 13 is the age requirement for social media.
The rules exist to protect kids. The internet is both good and bad, like pretty much everything in life, but some of the bad online is really bad, and kids may not be ready to handle all that.
Do you know how much growth and work is going on inside your child's brain under the age of 13? A lot.
Placing children with brains that are still developing in an environment that doesn't encourage waiting, thinking, or considering the feelings of others and that can last forever (because really, what gets posted on the Internet can live forever, no matter what Snapchat tries to tell you) is asking for trouble. Their brains just aren't ready to handle that.
My brain is fully formed (at least science says so), and social media boggles my mind pretty much daily. How can we expect children (and kids 12 and under are still very much children, even if they are taller than some of us) to successfully navigate the crazy world of social media?
The age requirement is established in part by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a federal law, and also state laws.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains that COPPA "imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age."
In short, there are different laws for what companies can do with information they collect online from kids. If they don't follow those rules, they are not COPPA-compliant, and therefore can't collect info from those under 13. All the above social media sites are not COPPA-compliant. But kids are using them and sharing tons of personal information via social media, including putting home addresses and phone numbers out there for the world to see.
One of my favorite statements about the age requirement for social media surprisingly came from Tumblr, a social media platform:
"You have to be at least 13 years old to use Tumblr. We're serious: it's a hard rule, based on U.S. federal and state legislation. 'But I’m, like, 12.9 years old!' you plead. Nope, sorry. If you're younger than 13, don't use Tumblr. Ask your parents for a Playstation 4, or try books."
There are a lot of considerations that go into when a child is ready for a social media account, but I see the age requirement as the first step. If you have not passed that requirement without lying, you will wait to have an account. And just because a child celebrates a 13th birthday doesn't mean they're automatically ready, but that's a post for another day.
You May Also Like: Printable parent-child phone contract
Prior Post: A letter to the parents of my daughter's friends
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