Under 13 in the Online World

What is COPPA

Thirteen seems to be a magic number for children to create and access accounts on the Internet. This is due to the Child’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which specifies what information companies and people under U.S. jurisdiction can collect about children under 13. According to COPPA, a site’s privacy policy should specify that the site will protect the privacy of children under 13. Website operators who collect personal information need to get parental permission before children under 13 can join and use the site. Many sites find it an arduous process, and simply prohibit use by children under 13. This includes Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Skype, Gmail, etc.

Parent Adherence to Terms of Service

In a recent parent workshop for parents of children in Grades PK to 5 that I led on Technology Throughout the Generations, parents were split over whether or not to let their children join a social media site, where the terms of service limit use to children over 13. Some parents spoke of peer pressure, where all their child’s friends were allowed social media accounts. Others shared their reasons for, and approaches to, allowing their child who is under 13 to use Instagram or Facebook.

My Perspective on Violating Terms of Service

My inclination has always been to restrict the use of social media by children under 13. I’m always discomfited by the subterfuge necessary for children to create social media accounts when they are under 13. The age specified in the terms of use of companies, is a requirement, not a suggestion. Is circumventing that requirement akin to buying cigarettes or alcohol for a child who doesn’t meet the age requirement in your city?

I sometimes wonder whether I’m simply preaching compliance, and whether that’s the most important thing. I don’t think thatI am motivated by compliance, but rather the development appropriateness of social media tools and the well-being of our children and families. I think that violating the terms of use of websites requires careful consideration, about lying and when it’s okay, privacy, online safety, rights and responsibilities, and citizenship.

Making Choices as a Family

Ultimately, I think that each family is responsible to decide on their own rules of engagement, to specify whether they will comply to the terms of use of various websites, and to be purposeful and deliberate about choosing how the members of the family engage with internet resources. If you and your family are deciding whether to allow your child on Social Media, read this great guide from Common Sense Media. Whatever decision you make, be clear about it as a family. Understand the issues, and make a choice, rather than simply following the edicts of anyone else.

Related Resources

Learn more about COPPA from  Wikipedia, and this guide from the Federal Trade Commission.

If you would like to know more about social media and teens, look up danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated.


This post was inspired by this prompt for the #EdublogsClub challenge. The prompt was to “write a write a post about student privacy”.

Take Control of Your Privacy

Do you ever feel a bit freaked out about what the Internet knows about you? Do advertisements ever seem to be too well targeted to you? Do you want to take control of  your privacy? Join a week of challenges as part of the Privacy Paradox.

Listen to the introductory show about the privacy paradox.

One of my favorite podcasts is Note to Self. I subscribed to it a few months back, and have listened to every episode since then, as well as some of the earlier episodes. In the most recent episodes, I learned about the Privacy Paradox. You can listen to the podcast to learn about it here. And if you’re interested, you can sign up, or just keep track of the pages where the information will be uploaded, and access them later without signing up.

The challenge begins February 6. You still have time to sign up, and join others taking the journey.

“In the five-day interactive project, we’ll help you understand where your personal information goes online, weigh the trade-offs and then make more thoughtful digital decisions. Tackling digital privacy can feel overwhelming. So let’s do it together.” – Manoush Zomorodi

Safety and Security on Facebook

Facebook is still the most popular social network for teens. My (unscientific) research done by talking to teens about their use of Facebook reveals that they still use Facebook in addition to apps like Snapchat, but they generally use social media differently than their parents do, using it more for personal communication than to share things with the whole world.

Facebook still officially requires users to be at least 13 years old, and users can report children who are under 13 years old. If your and/or your child is new to Facebook, make sure that you take a look at the Parents Portal. The site includes a number of parenting tips of parents in the digital age, a section on using Facebook and staying safe, parenting tips, and expert advice from groups around the world.

Instructions for those new to Facebook

List of resources in the security center

The broader safety center also includes safety tools and resources, bullying prevention information for teens, parents and educators, and a help center, in addition to the Parents Portal.

I recommend that you take the time to explore this resource to learn how to use Facebook, and how to keep yourself and your family safe online. Even if you’re not new to Facebook, it’s a good idea to regularly complete the security and privacy checkups to make sure that your settings and online habits are as you wish them to be.

Manage you Google Account with My Account

Google has introduced a new page to let you manage your security and privacy settings across Google products in one place.Google settingsThere is an incredible amount of information on the various pages hyperlinked, and it can be a bit overwhelming if you are not technically inclined. I suggest completing the Security Check-up and Privacy Check-up.

The security check-up checks your recovery information, connected devices, account permissions and gmail settings. The privacy check-up checks your Google + settings, phone numbers, Youtube settings, account history and Ads settings.