Children must use social media with more care

Young children can face a risk of online predators on social media accounts.

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Young children can face a risk of online predators on social media accounts.

Over the past 16 years, the world has been introduced to some of the most popular social media services such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. A growing issue of concern, however, is that many elementary school students are creating accounts and utilizing these social media outlets. Parents must understand that it is unsafe for their young children to have access to these social media platforms, and should delete any accounts created by their children.

A primary reason for why children in elementary school should not create accounts is because their brains have not fully matured. Children’s Bureau, Inc. wrote on their website, “Between the ages of seven to eleven, the brain experiences an incredible growth of neurons. Neurons are the cells that process information in the central nervous system. While they make up only 10% of the cells in the brain, they are solely responsible for communication in the brain.”

Given that the brain is still in a phase of major development throughout the elementary school years, it is inappropriate to let these children have social media accounts. Children need to be guided by their parents in order to know what information is safe to post. In elementary school, children need to first learn the necessary skills of communication, including correct etiquette with strangers. More specifically, children must learn the basics of netiquette (online etiquette) before revealing any personal information on social media.

Netiquette is often taught in school to children for the first time in the later years of elementary school, and even as late as the beginning of middle school. At Beck Middle School, mandatory computer classes inform children about how to handle themselves online with an entire unit on netiquette. Until children have been properly educated about how to be mature online, they should not be permitted to have a social media account.

Another reason why young children should not have social media accounts is because it may violate the law. On April 21, 2000, Congress enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and the Federal Trade Commission in 2013 issued amended rules for implementation of the Act.  In summarizing the amended rules, the Federal Trade Commission wrote, “The rule requires that operators provide notice to parents and obtain verifiable parental consent prior to collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13 years of age.” An operator refers to “any person who operates a Web site located on the Internet or an online service and who collects or maintains personal information from or about the users of or visitors to such Web site or online service.“

As a result of this Act and its amended rules, all major social media services ask for the age of the person applying for an account. Even though the Act allows children below the age of 13 to theoretically sign up for websites with the option of verified parental consent, a majority of social media services do not even offer this option. Websites such as Facebook and Twitter have made it evident that they do not want any users under the age of 13. Without an option for parental consent, children who are under the age of 13 are not eligible for an account, and if they choose to lie about their ages, they are not protected by the Act.

In the terms for creating a Facebook account, Facebook wrote, “To be eligible to sign up for Facebook, you must be at least 13 years old.”

Twitter also wrote in their privacy policy, “Our Services are not directed to persons under 13.”

Both Facebook and Twitter follow the guidelines of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and amended rules as strictly as possible. While it is unrealistic for these services to be able to find every user under 13 years of age, they both provide an option on their websites to specifically report underage children with accounts. When an account is reported, Facebook and Twitter conduct investigations to determine if the report is valid.  If the account is tied to an underage child, Facebook and Twitter will shut down the account.

Another significant concern recognized by the Act is the threat of online predators.  Social media services often have geolocation information built into their software that allows a user to determine where another user can be found.  This type of tracking would expose young children to dangerous predators who could track their location simply by using social media services.  This is an unacceptable risk for a young child.

Children in elementary school are clearly not ready to have social media accounts. The United States government and some of the Internet’s top social media services have taken steps to help prevent children from prematurely creating accounts and being exposed to the risks associated with participating online in social media. Children, and their parent should wait until they have the proper maturity, training and the understanding necessary to utilize social media and post online.