Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The First Lady, Facebook and Preteens

Parry Aftab, Executive Director and founder of WiredSafety (the world’s first cybersafety group) and member of Facebook’s International Safety Advisory Board:

My phone has been ringing off the hook with people asking for my opinion about the First Lady’s Today Show interview this morning, when she said her kids were not on Facebook and she was not a fan of young children using Facebook. I suspect that much of the media will miss the boat here. I am not a fan of young children using Facebook either. Neither is Facebook.

I commend the First Lady for understanding that Facebook is not for preteens. It does not permit users under the age of thirteen to register for the site, for the other parents who didn’t take as much time to read and understand Facebook’s terms of service. As the founder and Executive Director of WiredSafety, the oldest cybersafety and help group online, I wish that parents understood that and had the talk with their kids about Facebook and other online properties that are restricted to users 13 and over.

For more than ten years, the US Federal law, The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, has been in place to protect US children’s privacy and safety online. It prohibits commercial websites (without parents’ prior approval) from knowingly permitting preteens from sharing personally identifiable information online, and prohibits them from collecting personally identifiable information from preteens online. Facebook has been in compliance with this law since its inception. And I am happy that the First Lady understands about that law and the importance of parents overseeing their children’s Internet use.

For those of us without the US Secret Service to help protect our kids online, this is an important reminder that preteens are not allowed to use Facebook.

Unfortunately, preteens are rarely happy being just preteens. They want the clothing that their older siblings wear. They try and use makeup before they should. And look for technology and devices that older teens are using. They also sometimes lie about how old they are to get a Facebook profile before they should.

Have the talk! Discuss lying. Talk to them about how their lying about their age means adults have no idea that they are dealing with a preteen. Help them understand that some things are not meant for them yet.

Find other social networks designed for preteens. If more parents took as much care and interest in their children’s Internet use, fewer underage children would lie about their age to try and bypass Facebook’s age restrictions.

When your teen is 13 and wants their first Facebook profile, help them set it up. Make it a special occasion. Use privacy settings and remind them that you will be checking. Make sure you control their “friending”, especially in the beginning. If they are willing to “friend” you, it’s a great way to stay involved in their cyberlives. Bottomline, the more parents, such as the First Lady, care about their kids cyber-activities, the better all children will be.

So, take a tip form the First Lady – young kids should not be on Facebook. They are not old enough. She says so. I say so. And Facebook says so.

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