Kids can be exposed to a number of threatening situations online; cyberbullying, porn and contact from strangers all pose serious threats. Can Facebook help make kids' social networking experiences safe?
Children under 13 years old have been signing up on Facebook and lying about their ages for years — in fact, 7.5 million pre-teens are on the site, along with five million under the age of ten (according to Consumer Reports and the Wall Street Journal http://on.wsj.com/LmLdo5). While this violates Facebook's terms of service, the site wants to do something to create a safe space for younger users, and have announced that they are developing technology to this end.
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The social network site announced this week that they are looking at ways to legally grant access to children under the age of 13. (June 4th, http://on.wsj.com/LmLdo5) As a family therapist, I encourage Facebook to embrace their important role in using privacy to prevent cyber bullying and other age-inappropriate behavior. I'm committed to helping parents stay aware about cyberbullying and other harmful behavior as kids navigate the Internet. I urge families to use the guiding principles of the Three P's: Prevent, Protect, Prepare when interacting on Facebook or on any other site. How To Protect Your Children From Sexual Predators
Because Facebook is considering a system that would allow the accounts of younger children to be linked to their parent's accounts, I am hopeful that kids will have the supervision of an adult. This is of utmost importance in order to prevent troubled behavior. Thirty-six percent of parents know their underage kids are on Facebook, and some have even helped their children set up their accounts.
This means that a significant percentage of parents are likely already involved in their kid's life on Facebook. But, other parents might be surprised to find their pre-teens are using the site, and those kids need protection, as well. Kids & Sexting: What Parents Need To Know
If Facebook's new technology comes to fruition, parents would have a more direct involvement with their child's activity: they'd be able to manage interactions and perhaps even find out if their kids are struggling with bullying. It would also provide a way for kids to do the things they enjoy doing; playing games and connecting with friends while being protected from things like porn and inappropriate online behavior.
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Just like kids have gone around age restrictions on drinking by getting fake IDs, children will continue to lie about their age in order to sign up for Facebook. If Facebook agrees to privacy audits and creating controls for parents to manage their kids, the site could be a safe and enjoyable place where kids could play. The key is getting the right balance. I hope Facebook and parents will work to find this balance, and make up with kids and their families, not break up with them! Online Dating: How To Be Bold While Playing It Safe
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