REPORT: Half Of U.S. 12-Year-Olds Are Facebooking

Facebook’s rules state that children under 13 ought not use the site, but kids can simply fudge their year of birth if they’re below the minimum age. That’s what my friend’s nephews did to get profiles on the social network at ages seven and ten years old.

Apparently the kids’ mother has access to their login information, and altered their privacy settings so that the children’s can virtually do nothing on the social network other than look at pictures and play Farmville. The question my friend couldn’t answer, however, was whether her sister had a tight grip on who gets to be their kids’ “friends.”

But is that enough? Do kids need to be on Facebook at all? The social network doesn’t think so. But the Charlotte News and Observer has found that plenty of parents that let their pre-teen kids have accounts on the site.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 46 percent of 12-year-olds in the U.S. use social networks, and 62 of 13-year-olds in the study use social networks.

Those findings are from September, 2009, so one might correctly assume these numbers have gone up since then, especially with social games becoming a cornerstone of the Facebook experience for many.

Also, the study didn’t take into account children under the age of 12 — we might think they seem too young to even be interested in having a profile on a social networking site, but as these kids begin to use interactive technologies like smart phones and Xbox at younger ages, why wouldn’t they want to be part of Facebook if they hear the name on the news, at school, or from their older siblings? Plus, the games on the site are generally simple enough for a young kid to learn how to play on their own. Of course, I couldn’t find research to support this, so this is just my guess.

Facebook has set up a Facebook Public Policy and Online Safety team that looks to identify false information by users’ false, but verifying a minor’s age seems close to impossible. A member of the team tells the News Observer that parent participation is really the key to the problem of underage users on the site.But what if the parents aren’t opposed to their children being on Facebook? Talking about safe Internet practices with kids might be the next best responsible thing to do, along with monitoring your children’s online activity.

Do you think parents should make an active effort to keep kids under the age of 13 away from Facebook, or is this a trend that is irreversible?

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