Updated on February 4, 2014
Social Media for Kids – What Parents Need to Know About Facebook
This is the first of a more in-depth look at various
Social Media channels,
first – what parents need to know about facebook.
Remember when you got that first car seat for your baby, and you struggled to fit it into the car correctly? Perhaps you were like me and couldn’t work out where the seat belt straps were supposed to go. If you had said, ‘Oh, I can’t work these new-fangled car seats; back in my day we all just piled into the car’, and suggested that your baby travels without one, your friends and family would have reacted with incomprehension. Why would you not learn how to keep your child safe in the car?
This is how I feel when I hear people say that they don’t understand Social Media, and they don’t want to.
I am not saying that everyone should sign up to Twitter and start yakking on about their breakfast (we actually don’t do that much, but that is a whole other story), but you should know the basics about the various Social Media platforms – the reasons why your child why your child wants an account, what the advantages and dangers are, and how to protect your child.
Some of the warnings and dangers might make you want to shout NO NO NO, and forbid your child from ever having a Social Media account, but this is not the best way to go about it. Accompany your children on their first journey on Social Media. Stay beside them, and keep them safe, so that they learn how to use it sensibly.
I will include the legal age requirements as they stand at the time of writing, and will endeavor to update if and when there are changes. Do be aware though that I am not a lawyer, and the laws may be different in your country, or might change without me noticing.
More information can be found on this blog, which gives legal age requirments for Social Media.
First we have to look at COPPA. The Child Online Privacy Protection Act is a US law passed in 1998 to protect the privacy of children under the age of 13 years old. The Act specifies that websites must require parental consent for the collection or use of any personal information of children using the site. As you can imagine, and law that was written in 1998 is already quite dated, so we can expect to see updates and changes at some point in the coming years.
In the European Union, plans are afoot to introduce similar regulation – the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation is aimed for in 2014 and the regulation is planned to take effect in 2016 after a transition period of 2 years.
A lot of sites state that children under 13 years are legally banned from using Facebook and Twitter, but this is misleading. The truth is that companies would have to introduce extra checks and measures to ensure that their users are complying with COPPA, and for most of them it is simpler to say ‘No kids allowed’.
If you haven’t already – do read my article on Keeping Kids Safe Online – dealing with parental controls and blocks.
Rules and Regulations of Facebook
Facebook has a lower age limit of 13 years, in line with COPPA regulations, but circumventing this is (excuse the pun) child’s play. When signing up to Facebook, the user has to enter a date of birth, and many children simply alter their birth year.
When you sign up for a FB account, you are asked to confirm that you agree to their terms and conditions – this includes the age restriction. Contravening this part of their T&C can result in FB closing the account, if they are made aware that the person using the account is underage. As I said, I am not a lawyer, but I can’t see that a parent could be taken to account by the authorities for allowing their child to have a FB account. You may however face uncomfortable questions from the school or other authorities if your child uses FB to bully or intimidate other children, or to share illegal content.
This year Facebook changed from limiting teens to only being able to share with friends, to being able to share publicly. This is an opt-in step, so if your child had a FB account prior to October 2013, check to see if they are still only sharing with friends.
Why Your Child Wants to Use Facebook
If the latest headlines are to be believed, they don’t any more, as kids move onto more edgy and cooler sites because their parents and grannies have signed up for a FB account.
Still, there is a good chance that the first Social Media account that you child will ask to sign up for will be Facebook. Parents have to decide for themselves when they allow their kids to sign up – my daughter told me that just 4 kids in her class of 28 don’t have FB accounts (she is one of them).
The stories about teens leaving Facebook seem to be slightly exaggerated. There is a feeling that teens are drifting towards messaging apps such as Kik and Snapchat, which is why Facebook have redeveloped the messaging app. (An app is a self contained computer programme or application, generally designed for use on smartphone or tablet). The FB Messenger app enables kids to send private messages to their friends, either individually or as a group.
With 1.19bn monthly active users, there is a lot going on. 81% of teens use Social Media, and 94% of those teens have a Facebook account. The average number of friends (contacts) teens have is 425, and many of them use the site daily. This can be chatting about homework and school, gossip about friends, sharing jokes, music and funny ‘memes’, playing games or arranging to meet.
It can also be a great way of keeping touch with loved ones and friends far away. My daughter uses Instagram to message friends from Geneva, some of whom she’d lost touch with.
Each user has a Timeline, where the status updates (messages) of the people they follow are listed. This could be photos, text, videos or links to articles from around the world. The FB user can then express approval by pressing the [like] button, comment on the status update and/or share with their friends. Depending on the privacy setting of their account, and of their friends, they might see comments from other people to whom they are not connected (friends of friends). This enables them to widen their circle of friends. They are also encouraged by FB to do this, who send messages to say that the user’s friend is friends with X, do they want to be friends with them too.
Your child is on Facebook to be part of this community. ‘All my friends are on Facebook’, might be something that you hear a lot. Being the only one not on Facebook can mean that they miss out. It is also a good starting point for learning how to use the internet safely. You might not see the need for Social Media, but it is part of our lives and looks likely to stay part of our lives.
So what are the dangers? Not the exaggerated ones that you might read about in the tabloids, but the real dangers?
What You Should Warn Your Child About Facebook
Facebook is great for communicating with friends, but there are some areas of concern for parents. One of these is ‘cyberbullying’ and is the one that is most often discussed in the media or at school. Bullying of any sort is unacceptable, and your children should be encouraged to report any bullying or nastiness they see online, even if they are not directly affected. Facebook has ways of protecting users from bullying, such as the option to block and report. They can also hide updates from anyone who is annoying or being mean – sometimes this can be a good option as the other person doesn’t know that they are being ignored.
If it goes too far, then they should speak to an adult. It is important to keep the lines of communication open. If you are very reluctant to allow them on FB, then they might be scared to say something in case you ban them. If you react with horror and ‘I KNEW allowing you to use Facebook was a mistake’, then they might not come to you again. You don’t want them to officially close their account and then open a new one in secret.
The general rules of online safety apply on Facebook and should be talked about. Don’t give away too much personal information, don’t share telephone numbers or address, don’t agree to meet with someone you have only talked to online. Also have a chat about how much they are sharing online. We know that colleges, universities and potential employers check Facebook to find out a bit about applicants.
Sit with your child and go through the privacy settings. These change yearly, so keep an eye out for any news stories or blogs that report on changes. This site promises to stay up-to-date, so worth a look. Basically, you are looking to see what content you share with which people – public, friends, friends of friends. According to latest research, 60% of teens have their privacy setting set to ‘private’, and another 25% have it set to ‘partially private’.
Ensure that they know how to hide stories or updates that they don’t want to see, and how to block people. Again, it is important to talk to your child about how to report anything that they find unsettling. Be honest – tell them that some people might share pictures of naked people, or people having sex, and that this might disturb or upset them. If someone shares this kind of content, it is ok to block them, and that they should have a word with an adult.
You should discuss which friend requests you are happy with your child accepting. You might be happier to keep it to people they (and you) already know in real life. Also think about whether your friends and relatives will really want to be friends with your child – it means that they might feel obliged to clean up their language, and curtail their Facebook usage.
Explain that you will be checking their account regularly to ensure that they are safe. This is a tricky one, as they need to feel that they have privacy to chat to their friends, but it is important. If you use Facebook yourself, you might want to friend them – I won’t be doing this as it would seriously limit what I could post but it is a good way of keeping track of them
Don’t rely on the school to teach your kids this. A lot of schools are doing great work on this, but they often don’t start teaching Social Media until secondary school. Many schools give the message ‘Facebook is BAD’, which is understandable in a way, as they often deal with the fall out of cyberbullying.
The Bottom Line
With decent privacy settings in place, and after a open and honest conversations about the dangers of using the internet, Facebook is a fairly good place to start learning about Social Media.
Kids should know how to block content that they don’t like, and people who are abusive towards them. Do have a chat about inappropriate content, and what kind of things that they might see and how to report it.