Facebook for Kids

June 19th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Should children under 13 be on social networks?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

I have a friend who uses his 13-year-old daughter’s access to Facebook as a disciplinary tool. When she’s disrespectful to dad, grounding doesn’t work. Since she’d rather be Facebook-ing in her room, it’s the social networking account that goes.

I’ve sometimes wondered if 13 is even too young to have a Facebook account at all, but now it appears that the site is looking for ways to let kids 12 and under join up – with adult supervision. According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is planning to link tweens’ accounts to parents’, letting moms and dads screen requests and exercise other control via a new kind of “Baby Facebook” account.   

To be fair, Facebook is simply answering a demand that’s already out there among young social networkers: According to Consumer Reports, of the 20 million minors who were active on Facebook in 2011, 7.5 million were younger than 13, but lied about their age, and more than five million were 10 and under. Consumer Reports found that their accounts were largely unsupervised by their parents, exposing them to malware, predators and bullies. 

Further, there’s a push from parents and policymakers for the social networking company to find ways to protect children, especially in the wake of increased cyber-bullying. Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler told the WSJ, “We would like to see Facebook create a safe space for kids, a sanctuary, with the extra protections needed to ensure a safe, healthy, and age appropriate environment.” 

The alternative, of course, is to urge Facebook to focus on explaining to parents and children that the site isn’t appropriate for children under 13. "We don't have the proper science and social research to evaluate the potential pros and cons that social-media platforms are doing to teenagers," said James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a child-advocacy group based in San Francisco. "The idea that you would go after this segment of the audience when there are concerns about the current audience is mind boggling."

Lauren Ashburn of The Daily Beast wonders, “In the age of online child porn, cyber-bullying, and privacy violations, do we really need our children on Facebook, even if it’s linked to an adult’s membership? There are shady characters everywhere, no matter how hard parents try to protect their kids. Why put these trusting souls in harm’s way?”

According to Microsoft Research, 36 percent of adults are aware that their under-13 kids have Facebook accounts – and a substantial number of those parents even helped their kids get the account. 

What do you think? Better to monitor a kid’s Facebook account because they’ll probably open one without your consent anyway, or take a hard line against it until they’re 13? Sound off here.