You have to be at least 13 years old to legally use Facebook, and there's a reason for that: According to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), websites that collect information from a general-audience population must receive guardian permission to gather data from children 12 years old and younger.
Often, sites like Facebook choose to make the legal age of usage 13 and up to bypass the litigious headaches that parental consent incurs.
But, as I'm sure you know, rules are made to be broken.
Even if you help your child set strong privacy settings on Facebook, the service frequently changes its privacy policies. This makes it difficult to continuously adjust the settings to create a "bubble shield" around your tween.
And of course, many unsuspecting parents out there have tweens who are sailing on Facebook, playing games and socializing. Many parents aren't aware of relationships their children are building on the social network.
The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found that 46 percent of 12-year-olds surveyed in the United States use social networks. That sounds like a high percentage, but the number makes sense when you consider that today's children meet and connect emotionally through their digital devices.
You can imagine how difficult it is to find those tweens who are feverishly posting pictures, taking quizzes and making friends through the service. However, the website says it does take measures to find those young ones and remove them from the system. Recently, Mozelle Thompson, Facebook's chief privacy officer, told the Australian Federal Parliament's cyber-safety committee that the social networking giant deletes 20,000 accounts each day for age violations. Although an impressive number, he went on to say that the tools employed to find underage users are not foolproof.
What You Can Do
Just because Facebook is intended for 13-year-olds and older kids, it doesn't mean that you as a parent should wait to introduce their kids to the concept of digital citizenship. Instead, you should carefully choose online environments that are specifically created with tweens in mind.
Currently, there are plenty of fun social networks for children on the Web. The level of control, permission and oversight needed to play in these realms makes them more secure than other spaces. More importantly, getting your children set up on age-appropriate sites is a great way to start talking about the boons and burdens of social media.
Don't close doors -- just guide your children through the ones that lead to safer and healthier relationships online. Statistics show that kids want to use social media. It only makes sense that they learn how through you.
Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/youngvet
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