“This ain’t the movies” – 13+ age limit a requirement NOT a recommendation on Facebook

You know when you go to watch a movie, such as The Parent Trap, or Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone you are greeted with that screen that recommends Parental Guidance for viewers under the age of 13? And then you as a parent use your discretion as to whether your teen is mature enough to watch that movie?

Things are different on Facebook.

When Facebook says users must be over the age of 13, it is a requirement NOT a recommendation. This is because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA).

COPPA is a United States federal law, which aims to give parents control over what information is collected from their children online. It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.
Children under 13 can legally give out personal information with their parents’ permission (for example, Club Penguin), however many websites do not allow underage children to use their services simply due to the amount of work involved. Facebook is such a site, requiring all users to be over the age of 13. It has also implemented this age limit worldwide, despite the law being a US one.

When I gave my recent Introduction to Social Media Seminar for parents, I mentioned how the 13 year age limit was based on US federal law they were shocked – they were under the impression it was recommendation, not requirement. I write this article in the hopes that I can help inform parents that it is not acceptable for their children to create Facebook accounts until they are over the age of 13.

And yet, under 13s still have Facebook accounts! Boyd and her co-authors surveyed 1,007 US parents who had children living with them between the ages of 10-14 and found that:

  • Parents of 13-14 year olds report that, on average, their child joined Facebook at age 12
  • 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. 76% also assisted their 12 year old in creating the account.
  • 36% of all parents surveyed reported that their child joined Facebook before the age of 13, and 68% helped their child create the account
  • 53% of parents surveyed think Facebook has a minimum age and 35% of these parents think that this is a recommendation and not a requirement
  • 78% parents think it is acceptable for their child to violate minimum age restrictions on online services

Parents are divided on whether this 13 year old rule should be enforced – is it protecting children from inappropriate interactions and content, or preventing them from developing 21st century communication skills? If you have any thoughts on this please leave them below, I’d love to hear from you!

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