Facebook for kids. Is it safe?
Recently, a father sued Facebook for allowing his 11-year-old daughter to sign up. His daughter lied about her age and created several Facebook profiles. On her profiles, she posted inappropriate pictures. Not surprisingly, she then received inappropriate comments and pictures. After the father discovered and reported these accounts, Facebook did deactivate them. However, the father sued Facebook claiming the company should have done more to stop her from signing up in the first place.
This case was settled out of court but it raises an interesting question. While most social networks and apps do not allow children under 13, they do little to stop them. Most companies enforce their age restriction by stating it in their Terms of Service and requiring a person to enter a birth date when signing up. Once a child enters a fake birth date, they have profile. 7.5 million children under the age of 13 are on Facebook with no protection.
The reason most sites and apps have an age restriction is COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA protects children’s personal information by giving parents control over what information sites and apps can collect from children. Any site or app directed at kids under 13, or that collects personal information from kids under 13, must comply with this law. Most sites including Facebook comply by simply stating that they do not allow kids under 13. Since no kids, no need for parental controls. Kids are lumped in with adult users.
According to researchers from the Berkman Center, many of these 7.5 million kids did not sneak on to Facebook. When they surveyed over 1,000 parents with children between the ages of 10-14, they found that parents not only have a fairly good idea what sites their kids were on but parents worked with them to bypass age restrictions assuming that Facebook is safe for kids. Across all ages, no less than 82 percent of parents were aware their child created an account. Among those parents, 64 percent helped create it.
Facebook a Kid’s first Social Network
A Facebook profile is easy to find by strangers and content of your child can and does travel everywhere. Facebook child protection is vital.
For many kids, Facebook is their first grown up social network. Parents want their child on Facebook. This is often where families connect with their extended family and distant friends. Families encourage their children to share pictures with grandma or post video from their soccer game. Parents are confident they can supervise their kids on Facebook.
Facebook is unique in that way. Most other apps a parent joins after their teen wants to sign up. Most of us are passive observers on Instagram or Tumblr. We are just there to engage with our kid. On Facebook, parents are active participants. It is not just parents. If grandma is online, she is on Facebook not Snapchat (learn what is Snapchat and what parents should know in one of my recent articles).
Because families are comfortable with Facebook, they can also become complacent and neglect necessity of Facebook parental controls. When I look at my newsfeed with last night dinner photos and homecoming pictures, I begin to think, what is the harm in having a kid on Facebook. However, Facebook is still an adult social network and kids can stumble into problems.
- Facebook is a network of over 1 billion users. With this many users sharing content, it has posts and pictures that are not suitable for children. Facebook does not have a safe search option.
- Their digital reputation starts now. Facebook is more than sharing with friends and family. Universities, college, companies, future roommates are all on Facebook. A Facebook profile is easy to find and usually appears in the first page of search results.
- Facebook's goal is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. This means content of your child can and does travel everywhere without careful parental control on Facebook.
How to Protect your Child on Facebook
Protect your kids from sexting, cyberbullying, meeting with online predators or damaging their reputation.
Given how highly visible content is on Facebook, parents may want to consider waiting until their child is 13 before signing them up. Whether a family decides to wait or not, parents need to be right there with their kids. Consider Facebook their learner’s permit. This is not the time to throw them the keys and let them take off in the car. This is the time to sit with them and teach them how to navigate and share responsibly on a social network.
Here are some steps to get you and your child on the right foot with Facebook.
- Sign up together. Most social networks have similar sign ups. When signing up, families should talk about what information is public and what is private. Typically, their name and profile picture is always public. Parents and kids should choose these carefully.
- Walk through privacy settings. Most kids want to rush this process and start posting right away. They should make it a habit to always look through the settings first. What is nice about Facebook child protection is it has stronger privacy setting for children under 18.
- Discuss who can friend them. Young kids should stick with family and close friends. If someone tries to friend them that they do not know, they should come to you. Parents should also keep track of the number of friends. Since they are just learning, families will want to keep posts and pictures within a tight circle.
- Show kids how to report inappropriate content and block people. Everyone should take advantage of these controls to shape the network they want to see. Facebook has updated its reporting system to help guide kids to make smart decisions online.
- “If you don't want anyone else to have it, then don't post it.” Yesterday, this quote appeared on my newsfeed. It sums up sharing on Facebook. Even with the most robust privacy controls, posts and pictures can be copied and shared. Parents should check in and discuss what to post and what not to post.
(Read my recent 5 child safety tips for more information about keeping your child safe on social networks).
Good parental control software and good parenting work together to keep kids safe on Facebook.
If all of this seems a bit daunting, Familoop Safeguard can help with keeping Facebook safe for kids. Parents can set it up to add Facebook parental controls to protect their child on Facebook. After a child signs up, Familoop will immediately send an alert when it identifies a picture or a post that is a concern. Parents can step in quickly to talk with their child about how to address mean comments or inappropriate pictures. By partnering with Familoop, parents teach their child how to share safely on Facebook and manage their digital reputation.
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