Should Facebook’s Rules Change to Allow Kids?

May 23

My kids have never asked to join . Nor have they heard of or ScuttlePad. Have you? Probably not. They are all safe social networking sites created exclusively for the under-13 set. That is, an alternative to the much ballyhooed Facebook network.

However, chances are that if you have a child 10 years or older, he or she has asked at some point to join Facebook. You’ve either said “oh, all right” or “not a chance in hell” (the hell part under your breath because, of course, you don’t use such language in front of your child).  Considering that 7.5 million underage kids use the site already, chances are pretty good that you are one of the parents who said “oh, all right.”

So, why , one might ask, are there alternative kid-friendly sites?  Why? Why?

If you think I’m about to unleash a diatribe on the benefits of kid-appropriate social networking sites…You’re wrong. To those sites, I have to say: You cannot compete.

If your kid is begging for Abercrombie & Fitch and you keep buying her elasticized pants at Please Mum, she’s only going to keep begging to go to Abercrombie & Fitch. She won’t suddenly wake up one day and thank you for helping her realize the merits of elasticized pants. I don’t deny that the efforts of sites like Togetherville are noble and they look pretty darn cool, too.  But let’s be honest. Kids want to hang out where  the most kids hang out. Unfortunately for the online world, that happens to be a place where they’re not really supposed to be.

Anyone following this trend can’t help but come to the conclusion that eventually the world-famous social network will drop the under-13 restriction. Oh, wait… Mark Zuckerberg has just announced that this is exactly what he wishes to do! There is one thing standing in his way – the law.  The Children’s Online Protection Privacy Act (COPPA) states that websites that collect data on their users cannot sign on anyone under the age of 13 years.

Zuckerberg, however, believes this must change. The 27-year-old has professed his passion for education and believes that his network will enable much needed progress in educating our young. The university dropout and, thus far, childless single guy is obiously in tune with what today’s kids need. He stated:

Education is clearly the biggest thing that will drive how the economy improves over the long term…My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age….

This cringe-worthy quote taken from a recent NewSchools Summit in California provides a clear indication that parents and teachers should not trust Mark Zuckerberg to lead educational reform any time soon. At least, I really, really think he shouldn’t.

On the other hand, he raises an important issue. With millions of kids under 13 already posting status updates on their wall, isn’t it time that we, as a society, accept that something needs to change? I, personally, do not advocate handcuffing 11-year-olds and charging their parents with bad decision-making skills (wouldn’t we all be in jail by now if that was the case?) for flouting internet laws.  Yet, something needs to be done to address the increasing number of young users joining the taboo network daily.

Zuckerberg’s cluelessness about parenting and children aside, he sees what too many adults are unwilling to see. Kids are hanging out on Facebook. So, let’s stop pretending it’s going to all go away one day. Let’s start looking at ways to make it safer. Now.

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