My husband and I didn't realize how valuable Facebook was until I gave birth to our daughter this past July. My husband's parents and family live in Pittsburgh, and they check out our Facebook pages nearly every day to see new pics and videos of the baby.
And while it's a wonderful way to keep so many people connected, Facebook is not supposed to be used by everyone. Not according to its Terms of Service, anyway.
According to those terms, you must be 13 years old or older to join Facebook, but millions of kids younger than 13 years old are Facebook users. That means millions of kids are saying they're older than they really are. And according to a new study released this week by the University of Illinois at Chicago, parents are helping their kids do it.
Researchers began studying underage usage after one researcher, a mom, posed this question:
“I know that Facebook isn’t meant for children under the age of 13, but I’m not sure what the harm is in letting my daughter join. She’s mature for her age and our computer is in the living room and I could require her to be ‘friends’ with me. Am I a bad mother if I let my 11–year–old on Facebook?”
Much of the study focuses on policy debates about children’s online activities and the appropriateness and purpose of Facebook’s age restrictions.
But let's focus on another basic conclusion—parents who allow their underage kids to join Facebook are giving them permission to lie.
For anyone who's hit the "agree" button when downloading software without actually reading the terms of service (I'm definitely guilty), just helping your child create a fake age might seem like the same thing. Or is it?
Many friends and family members have asked me if we've created an email account or Facebook page for our daughter. Of course not, we thought, she's just a baby! But a recent survey found 7 percent of babies already have an email address, so wouldn't allowing our 8, 9 and 10-year-olds to have their own Facebook account seem reasonable?
But here's the thing. We can create the ground rules for using Facebook and we can 'friend' our kids, but in the end, those are our rules. Technically, we're breaking the rules and lying if we allow our kids to join Facebook before they're 13.
I'm not a parent of a tween or a teen. So I'm not sure what I'd do if my child were ten years older. Are we OK with giving our kids permission to tell a lie—even if it's just a little, white lie? After all, millions of other kids' parents are doing it...