Do you have Facebook? Do your kids have Facebook? Did you know that it is against the law for children under the age of 13 to create an online profile that collects their personal information?

In the last couple of weeks I have read a number of articles and such regarding this interesting phenomena (I call it that because what we all do online is still a phenomena) of parents knowingly letting their underage children create a Facebook account or looking the other way.

This article on ChurchMag entitled “Breaking the Law to Be on Facebook” is worth the read if you want to know what the law really is all about as well as what the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, thinks about the particular restriction.

NPR recently did a story called “Social Networks: Thinking of the Children” where the author references a father whose 11-year-old son wants a Facebook account. Here’s what gives the father pause:

It is legally verboten — by the Children’s Online Protection Act of 1998 — for a website to collect personal information or track the cybertrail of anyone younger than 13, without parental consent. Rather than create software to prevent digital tracking, most sites insist that users be of age. Many general-interest, multigenerational social media websites — like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter — solve the problem by requiring that all users be at least 13 years old.

Still, kids will be kids. And recently it has come to light that millions of young people are flouting the rules to create accounts on the social networking sites. According to the New York Times, a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project reported that 38 percent of 12-year-olds in the United States participate in social networks. And in June 2011, Consumer Reports estimated that about 7.5 million people who use Facebook are younger than 13.

So what do you think? Is the law good or not good? Is it out-of-date (or out-of-touch)? Should parents allow their children to skirt the rules?


  1. I can’t vote because it’s not that straight forward. I let Shyann create an account at 12, why? Because she has friends who are older and are spread out around the country. Facebook is a good way for her to keep in touch with them. But we are talking about a young lady who has successfully used e-mail since she was about 6 years old.

    I log in to her account regularly and check on her (she’s 13 almost 14 now), there has never been an issue. The biggest *problem* I have with her account is she keeps sending me invites to the Justin Bieber fan pages >.<

    Ciara, my middle child, is 12 currently and I am making her wait until she's 13. Why? Because she has a hard time knowing when it's okay to talk and when to just shush, and I'm afraid she might accept friend requests that she shouldn't. Even when she's 13 I will most likely monitor her use a bit more than I do Shyann's.

    So, really, it's a case by case thing.

    • I updated the poll with a “case-by-case” category.

      I hear you, Carrie. While in the eyes of the law things are very black and white and simple, things aren’t that simple when the law is applied (or ignored). There are some parents that I hear say exactly what you said, Carrie. And for what it’s worth, I agree. I think it should be up to parent’s discretion and oversight. However, the problem is how does a society protect the children whose parents aren’t policing their online activity.

      On the other side, there are parents who hold that black and white line that the policy states. I agree with this as well because we need to model to our children obedience to authority.

      The tricky part of all this seems to be the ever-changing reality of our culture and technology’s impact on our everyday behavior and patterns. And history tells us that the laws seem to always be a bit behind.

      I wonder how it is all going to play out?

      • I agree with modeling obedience to authority. However, where exactly does that obedience fall. Shyann and I discussed the privacy issue, discussed why the law is the way it is and looked at a few of her friends who have pages. She determined that while Facebook asks you for personal data – where you’re from, does NOT require you to give actual facts. If you go through my page you can find Shyann and you’ll see that she goes to school at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, she is from France and she speaks a handful of languages 😀 I doubt too many people will find her that shouldn’t!

        A society will do what it always has done when there are parents who aren’t policing their children. It will either police for them or turn a blind eye and wait until that child steps over some invisible line that turns them to a criminal path and then the real police will step in.

        • I appreciate your thoughts, Carrie. It’s easy to talk in theory (meaning I’m not dealing with this in my home b/c my kids are preschool age), and quite another when you’ve got teenagers. While I would like to posit an opinion, it would be ill-informed and premature.

          By the way, what did you mean by “where exactly does that obedience fall” in your post?

  2. Here is an interesting info-graph on the matter of parental involvement in checking up on teens’ social media usage:

    As I am a scenarios guy, I’ll play the other side of the coin for discussion’s sake.

    Though I would agree that every child matures at a different rate, could it be argued that how we approach laws and guidelines impact how the next generation will? Or to take it a step further, by ignoring laws and guidelines -even on a case by case example – are we blurring the line between rights and privileges?

    I ask these questions because they are at the core of what has helped create a generation with the largest sense of entitlement that has ever been seen. Though this is a pretty nominal policy that we’re discussing and there are other more impacting factors involved, could assisting our kids to use other accessible mediums (such as e-mail, IM, snail mail, carrier pigeon, etc.) help their maturity more in the long run?

    And discuss…

    • Facebook blurs that line without allowing or disallowing youngsters to be on it’s site. It’s my right and privilege to go out and party and have a good time, it’s also my right and privilege to post the pics from that good time on facebook. However, my boss (well, future boss I suppose) also has the right and privilege to have an account and if I leave my settings lax then he or she has access to those photos thus limiting my career choices. I find this to be a violation of my right to free speech and free expression. Not because I’m entitled to be stupid but rather because I’m entitled to a bit of privacy.

      The real problem is not that we ignore laws, or blur lines, the real problem is that parents do not parent. If all parents parented then there would be less need for jails, parole officers and welfare. However, many parents who are now grandparents did not parent MY generation (these would be the baby boomers) because they were overly parented as children, so they wanted to have little friends rather than children. Thus creating a generation who felt that any older person was their friend, not someone to be respected or listened to. This is my generation, we were taught that we could have what we wanted when we wanted it because there was MONEY! The people my generation and a bit older (30-38) have begun raising the next generation of give-me brats.

      Several factors play into this: 1. Our parents were raised by people who survived the Great Depression, they had nothing and they lived off that, so when they did get stuff they took care of it and learned how to fix it if it broke. 2. Our parents (baby boomers) watched a LOT of technology come around, they may or may not have had money in their family to have the technology but something shiny is just that…something shiny. 3. Our parents figured out that they can spend money, the government made all kinds of regulations so that the Great Depression will never happen again. Not only can they spend the money they have, they can also spend the money they might eventually have by using CREDIT. And since we through God of school while they were there then we can ignore those pesky verses where He tells us to not owe money to anyone.

      All the laws in the Old Testament did not make the Pharisees ‘good’ or ‘humble’ it was the Father who guided the people in His flock to be people after His Heart. Without loving guidance children will be disobedient and disrespectful.

      Laws regarding privacy for children don’t need to be there if parents will just parent. Those laws are there because too many kids weren’t with their parents when they created their online personalities and they determined that people would LIKE them better if they were a little more sexy, a bit more risque, and a lot less childlike. What does that say about our society?

      Look at the people creating these laws, how many of them regularly check out pornography online? Sadly they create the laws that keep our kids out of their browser windows. That’s the scary thing for me.

      Am I rambling yet?

  3. Ah yes, I agree. I think we as parents probably “justify” our actions more
    than we should. I wonder if it is because we do what is easier (i.e. take
    the path of least resistance). It is easier to tell our kid: yes, go ahead
    and get on Facebook (this doesn’t take a lot of parental interaction…
    these kids know intuitively how to do this much better than their parents)
    … while teaching children do do these other “legal” means (i.e. snail
    mail) takes more work.

    I also agree that we are raising an “entitled” generation in the sense that
    we aren’t (parents, it seems) restricting these activities when the law
    states as such. Therefore we create an arbitrary set of rules for me and my “case-by-case” situation, thus creating an individual rule set for every person…

    I like what you said about a “right” versus a “privilege” … hadn’t though about it that way…

    • For me it’s not the path of least resistance, it’s the path of it just makes sense. Kids do what they see their parents doing. I have facebook up pretty much all day while I’m working on school work, or whatever else I’m doing. They see me blogging, they see me emailing. They also make cards and have a couple friends from AZ that they snail mail too.

      Oh and I have facebook on my phone…now Shyann wants an internet phone because it would just be easier!

  4. I think children of all ages spend so much of lives on Facebook, they doing have sufficient experiences to to comment upon.

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