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Are You Lying For Your Children?

November 1, 2011

In recent startup projects I’ve done a lot of work understanding the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).   Meant to protect children, its intentions are worthy.  However, from a practical point of view, many parents are complicit with their children in circumnavigating the law.  I’m one of them…  having helped my son get on Facebook when he was 12.  He’s now 13 and I’m happy to say that his last year on Facebook has been a lot of fun, especially in staying in touch with his older sis in college.

A study has just been released suggesting I’m not alone:  Why Parents Help Children Violate Facebook’s 13+ Rule

“I know that 13 is the minimum age to join Facebook, but is it really so bad that my 12-year-old is on the site?”

While parents are struggling to determine what social media sites are appropriate for their children, government tries to help parents by regulating what data internet companies can collect about children without parental permission. Yet, as has been the case for the last decade, this often backfires.

From a national sample of 1,007 U.S. parents who have children living with them between the ages of 10-14 conducted July 5-14, 2011, we found:

  • Although Facebook’s minimum age is 13, parents of 13- and 14-year-olds report that, on average, their child joined Facebook at age 12.
  • Half (55%) of parents of 12-year-olds report their child has a Facebook account, and most (82%) of these parents knew when their child signed up. Most (76%) also assisted their 12-year old in creating the account.
  • A third (36%) of all parents surveyed reported that their child joined Facebook before the age of 13, and two-thirds of them (68%) helped their child create the account.
  • Half (53%) of parents surveyed think Facebook has a minimum age and a third (35%) of these parents think that this is a recommendation and not a requirement.
  • Most (78%) parents think it is acceptable for their child to violate minimum age restrictions on online services.

For New Market Entrepreneurs, solving the challenge of providing a wholesome and safe social environment for children under 13, with parents leading the sign-on process is very complex.  This report touches on many of them:

Unfortunately, getting the parental permission required by COPPA is technologically difficult, financially costly, and ethically problematic. Sites that target children take on this challenge, but often by excluding children whose parents lack resources to pay for the service, those who lack credit cards, and those who refuse to provide extra data about their children in order to offer permission. The situation is even more complicated for children who are in abusive households, have absentee parents, or regularly experience shifts in guardianship. General-purpose sites, including communication platforms like Gmail and Skype and social media services like Facebook and Twitter, generally prefer to avoid the social, technical, economic, and free speech complications involved.

Kids of all ages want to jump on the social media bandwagon.  And for the most part, the experience they will enjoy will be fun and gratifying for all.  As parents, we are obligated to monitor our children’s social media accounts… whether they are 12 or 18 or even older… up until the point where we are convinced they understand the concept that anything that’s allowed into this fishbowl is there to tell a story about them for the rest of their lives.

But from the New Market Entrepreneurial perspective, there is still a problem waiting to be solved out there…

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