Study: Parents Let Their Underage Children Lie to Join Facebook

We're all struggling to keep up with the hectic lives, schedules, homework, struggles, friendships of our children and grandchildren. It's hard enough to keep track of the basics in the actual world. Now a series of new studies reveals too many of us are failing to keep track of what's going on with our children in a place they're spending far more time: the online world of social networking called Facebook 

What if I told you 7.5 million pre-teens (5 million age 10 and younger) are  spending hours each week exploring – unsupervised – a world where:

  • True identities can be completely hidden.
  • Kids post personal information, photographs, and video clips of themselves.
  • Children can post – and so others can track – their real-time location.
  • Privacy is murky and you are often a couple of clicks away from accidentally revealing everything you post, write, share with millions of people.
  • For adults in this world, the privacy rules are confusing, unclear and ever-changing. Imagine your 8-year-old child or grandchild navigating through it without adult supervision.

AND…..This place is always unveiling the coolest new games and ways to merge your online life with your 'real life.' For example, now you can track and post your location instantly. If you're walking from school to a friend's house, you can post your location. Then all your pals know right where you are and where you are going at the very moment you're doing it!

What if I told you this world was free, easily accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that it is the coolest, hottest, hippest place kids have to hang out? Nobody wants to be left out.

There is one rule, though. You must be 13 to enter.

Now what if I told you that a series of studies recently confirmed what many of us already knew – that many parents and maybe grandparents – are letting their children and grandchildren lie about their age to get into this world. And, once those kids are in, these parents and grandparents are allowing them to roam around completely unsupervised – to share information, locations, pictures and videos of themselves.

Consumer Reports Survey Finds Disturbing Trends

 Consumer Reports released this:

"Our survey unearthed several disturbing findings about children and Facebook:

  • Of the 20 million minors who actively used Facebook in the past year, 7.5 million—or more than one-third—were younger than 13 and not supposed to be able to use the site.
  • Among young users, more than 5 million were 10 and under, and their accounts were largely unsupervised by their parents.
  • One million children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on the site in the past year.

Clearly, using Facebook presents children and their friends and families with safety, security, and privacy risks."

The Fake ID's of Cyber Space: Getting Into Facebook

To join Facebook you simply type in your information and your birthdate. If you're too young, they'll bounce you out. But there's no credit card confirmation or other precaution to confirm the accuracy of the information. Anyone can join if they lie about their age.

According to the recent reports, including The New York Times, many parents aren't worried, are actively helping their kids lie, or are completely unaware of what's going on.  

Where are Mom and Dad?

"Parents of kids 10 and younger on Facebook seem to be largely unconcerned. Only 18 percent made their child a Facebook friend, which is the best way to monitor the child. By comparison, 62 percent of parents of 13- to 14-year-olds did so. Only 10 percent of parents of kids 10 and under had frank talks about appropriate online behavior and threats."

'Why Parents Help Their Children Lie' to Facebook

A study co-authored by Eszter Hargittai, associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, called: "Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age: Unintended Consequences of the 'Children's Online Privacy Protection Act' found that "many parents knowingly allow their children to lie about their age—in fact, often help them to do so—in order to gain access to age-restricted sites in violation of those sites' terms of service."

Is it really SO wrong? What Should Parents Do?

Look, I'm crazy about Facebook and am on it a lot. As a former new media communications prof and current journalism teacher I use it as a teaching tool for my students, as a way to keep track of great articles and resources and as a way to connect with a wide range of personal and professional 'Friends' I don't often see in my 'real-time' life.

But I'm also the parent of a tween girl who reminds me nearly every day that she is, like, the only person in her class that doesn't have a Facebook page. Why can't I just sign her up and watch her, she suggests? She promises she'd 'Friend' me so I could monitor everything. 

Here's what I say:

"When you are 13 and thus legally able to have your own Facebook page, we will see what the latest technology and social media trends are. We will explore, discuss and evaluate them together and your father and I will come up with a plan we feel is the safest and most appropriate path for you to take. And then whatever action we take, we will supervise your activities closely.

We will regularly discuss issues with you that may arise. We will re-think it as we go and make appropriate adjustments as we go along. You will be required to 'Friend' us and give us full access to whatever page you have. You will not 'Friend' anyone you don't know and if anything strikes you as fishy, you will immediately alert us.

We will continue to openly discuss your online experiences.

We would not hand you the keys to the car at 10 years old because you want them desperately, because everybody else in your class claims they have them and that statistically, probably nothing bad will happen if we just cave and hand them over.

But I won't. Why? Because I'm the Mother and I say so, that's why."  

About the Author

Pam Cytrynbaum

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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