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Is Your Under 12 Year Old on a Social Network?

Norton just ran an online parent survey in Canada and among the findings was the nugget that 43% of parents said they were OK with tweens (ages 8-12) having a social networking account, so long as they're supervised by parents. But only about half of those parents are using parental control software or tools, the rest get by with periodic checks of the computer.

Last week Consumer Reports released a study that found 7.5 million underage users on one social networking site alone. Of those 7.5 million kids under the age of 13, 5 million were under the age of 11. The EU Kids Online report (covering 25 countries in Europe) found that 38% of 9-12 year old children had an account on a social network.  And younger children are LESS likely to use privacy settings, leaving their profiles public. Additionally, social networks will delete the account of an underage child, if it’s discovered. That would mean all the hard work of creating friend lists and posting photos would be wasted and need to be recreated when the child is older.

Another study done in the UK by Ofcom found that use of parental controls is down because parents report they are supervising their kids’ computer use and they “trust” their kids. “Since 2009, the incidence of having internet controls or filtering software has decreased among parents of 5-15s (37% vs. 43%); this is driven by a decrease among 8-11s (42% vs. 49%) and 12-15s (35% vs. 41%).” In the same study, “48% of parents think their child knows more than them about the internet, rising to 70% of parents of 12-15s”.

At the same time, access to the internet in private areas like bedrooms is dramatically up for so-called “older” kids of 12-15! In 2009, 31% of kids 12-15 had internet in their room. In 2010 it increased to 41%. Only 14% of younger kids (8-11) have private internet in their room.

It would appear that parents are treating the age of 12 as a marker for mature behavior and the need for private connected experiences. Yet this age coincides with peak years for cyberbullying and therefore should be a time for increased parental guidance and supervision. It’s also just before (at age 13) the legal use of social networks. This is certainly a conundrum for parents like me who want to help our tween and pre-teen children navigate the middle school years with kindness towards others and help finding appropriate online destinations. I would recommend we reconsider how much responsibility we put on the narrow shoulders of 12 year old children and provide more active parenting in the form of:

  1. Abide by rules for use of social networks; delay letting your child create an account until they are of age.
  2. Talk to other parents in your school and neighborhood. It’s much harder to keep your under 13 year old child off of social networks when everyone else is on there and there’s so much “buzz” about it in school.
  3. Consider whether or not your 13 year old child is mature enough for the drama and danger on social networks. Gossip, photos posted of parties your child wasn’t invited to, cyberbullying and malware – it’s all lurking in social networks. It requires tremendous self-control not to click on dangerous links, let alone not feel sad when you see evidence of being left out of something.
  4. Use parental control software such as Norton Online Family, that can alert you to the creation or access of social networks and show you the age the child has stated when they created the account.
  5. Provide limited access to the internet in private spaces of your home. Refer to the settings of your home wireless router for suggestions on setting access, time or other limits to the devices connected on your network.
  6. Make sure you “friend” your child when they join a social network. Keeping parents “in the room” online can help a child be more resilient and provides a structure for reporting abuse to a trusted adult. In the Consumer Reports study, only 18% of parents “friend” their child. Other studies show higher rates but make it a best practice in your home.
  7. Give your tween and teen your parenting wisdom, even if you really believe they have more technical knowledge than you. Your adult experiences are valuable in navigating the adult world of the internet. Refer to “The Talk” for help in getting started.


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