Sometimes I feel like such an old fuddy duddy. Why? I don’t let my 9 year old have a social networking account. I have several reasons (and fortunately my husband and I agree on them):
1. It’s the rule – if you read the End User License Agreement (and I know you didn’t), you’d know you have to be 13 years of age to create an account. Don’t we want to teach our children to follow the rules and obey the law? Or doesn’t it count when it’s just a few key strokes on a website?
2. It’s a mature audience environment. I don’t just mean that her cousins and older siblings post inappropriate things (which they occasionally do). I mean there are real responsibilities in playing in a public space:
Who do you accept as a “friend”? A younger child may succumb to pressure from a stranger or even someone pretending to be someone they know.
Using privacy settings appropriately. There’s so much to gain in preventing strangers from finding you in search, seeing your posts and photos and so on. The default settings still need to be tweaked, something a young child may not think to do.
Using security settings appropriately. Securing a social network is an evolving stream of activity. What worked yesterday takes more effort today (have you set up https on yours?) No child should have to read tech news magazines or blogs just to stay safe.
Learning what you can and can’t click on. There’s an epidemic of cybercrime threats in social networks from “help! I’m in London and was robbed” scams to clickjacking and other malicious threats. They are designed to attract childish clicks and can cause a whole host of downstream trouble. Examples include offers to see embarrassing videos of teen singing stars or video of a whale being tossed into a building by the Japanese tsunami.
3. There can be “adult” content that they shouldn’t see. You can’t control other people’s comments, links, photos, etc.
4. The social network may throw you out. If you are discovered to be under age, your account will be cancelled. And no amount of whining to the company will bring it back. You’ll lose your friend list, your posts, your photos, etc. I’ve already heard from some of my daughter’s friends who have had this experience. Some very sad little kids in our neighborhood.