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Age verification not stopping kids from joining social networking sites

Most popular social networks have a minimum age requirement, but many parents are letting their kids log on anyway.
June 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
You can access the Internet from just about anywhere. But to help keep the pre-teen set safe, most popular social networks have a minimum age requirement. But many parents are letting their kids log on anyway.

Like many of us, fifth-grader Annika likes to log on to Facebook.

"I post pictures," Annika said. "I play games."

The problem? Technically, Annika shouldn't even be on the social networking site. That's because she's just 11 years old.

Sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube require users to be 13 or older. But millions of kids are finding a way to join the digital revolution early.

"I know that 80 percent of my daughter's classmates are on Facebook," said Ciaran, Annika's mother.

But Internet safety experts say the minimum age is set at 13 because of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

"It requires websites that are marketing to children, or that are aiming towards children, to require parental consent," said Larry Magid of ConnectSafely.org. "The reason why sites like Facebook and YouTube don't try to get parental consent, it would just be unwieldy."

So how are these kids faking it? They lie about their age, virtually creating a fake ID online. Some create an account behind their parents' backs. Others ask permission first, and then work with mom or dad to set up a profile.

Rather than have her daughter create an unmonitored account, Annika's mom created one with her.

"You would not just give your kid the keys to the car and ask them to drive at 16. I don't want to give her the keys to the Internet at 13," said Ciaran.

A lot of parents feel the same way, but that worries psychologist Susan Newman.

"You're really teaching your children it's ok to tell small lies," Newman said. "Your child is going to think, 'oh, this is not a big deal. I mean, my mother set me up an underage Facebook account, so I can tell her, well, I'm not really drinking, or I didn't really smoke much marijuana.'"

Newman also worries that children under 13 may not have the Internet savvy to avoid potential threats.

"When you're hit with, 'Everyone else is doing it mom, why not me?' You have to remember, a parent's job in life is to say no, to set limits," Newman said.

If your kids are on these sites, parenting experts say set the maximum privacy settings, make sure you're your child's Facebook "friend," limit computer time and keep the account password. And finally, keep an open dialogue.

"You need to talk to them about the safety issues. You need to talk about what's appropriate and what isn't," said Magid.

When Facebook, MySpace and YouTube were contacted, only Facebook responded.

Facebook said it recognizes there's no perfect solution when it comes to age verification on the web, and when it discovers an underage account, it deletes the account right away.


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