Detroit News, The (MI) 

Detroit News, The (MI)May 24, 2011

Facebook is no friend to children under 13

Author: Laura Berman The Detroit News

Edition: 1-dot
Section: Metro
Page: A3
 Article Text:

Newly emerging dilemma in the realm of social netiquette: How do you respond to a 10-year-old when she asks to be your Facebook friend? It happened to me the other day, when a sweet, familiar face popped up on my Facebook page.

As a 10-year-old, my prospective Facebook friend is on the cusp of a trend — one of 5 million kids her age and under who have joined the Facebook user army.

Or as my daughter explained: “AOL is for babies. All of my friends are on Facebook. Mom, can I be on Facebook?”

As dilemmas go, this one proved short-lived. I opted to keep my Facebook corner for adults only — and based on what I’ve learned, you might want to do the same.

For years, the standard advice about kids online has been to supervise. But new studies suggest the spectacular growth of Facebook and other social media have outstripped the ability of people — not just kids — to manage what happens to their own information on line.  

Consumer Reports last week released a survey revealing 7.5 million children younger than 13 are using Facebook! . Many of them probably have parental approval, even though kids are required to be 13.

“Sometimes even the 11-year-olds have figured out how to open their own account,” says Marcella Wilson, a Baltimore, Md., technology expert. She’s among those who suggest technology is “amazing” and that kids should be encouraged to explore, with parental supervision.  

But we’re moving into an era when parental supervision is easier to advise than to do. Kids now have access to computers at school, in libraries, on cellphones, iPads and other devices. They’re the digital natives, asserting their territorial rights to parents who can’t find the camera on a phone, let alone match their kids’ dizzying techie skills.

Most of the kids measured by Facebook likely joined with the help of their parents, because the survey was completed by adults, not children.

In most of these cases, parents likely help kids lie about their age to get on email and social media programs, mo! st of which have an age 13 requirement — largely ! a functi on of a federal law governing online privacy for children. That’s true for Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail, among others.  

Every viral, phishing and chainmail scam that baffles adults is likely to be even more challenging to children. And kids can’t easily distinguish online between friendly adults and friendly predators.

Jeff Fox, the Consumer Reports technology editor, argues that Facebook’s privacy controls are confusing even to adults, and that social media firms need to assume more responsibility for enforcing their own rules.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, says he’d like to eliminate the 13-year-old age requirement. But Fox points out that Facebook isn’t enforcing its age rules now: Shouldn’t the company demonstrate its ability to control privacy and age requirements first?Kids talk freely about their lives, online or off. They push buttons with abandon.

“Right now, Facebook isn’t fit for kids,” Fox says flatly.  

Laura Berman’s c! olumn appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. Reach her at (313) 222-2032 or

(c) 2011, The Detroit News. All rights reserved.
Record Number: det-108526538