When should I allow my children to get a social media account?

In the past 6 months I’ve spoken to dozens of parent groups, seeking to build understanding between parent and child about social media.

The highlight, for most parents, is an unlimited free-for-all Q&A.

Without fail, a parent will ask me… “What is the right age to allow my child to get [insert social media app name]?

The answer is simple: Thirteen.

It’s thirteen because every single social media app’s rule is thirteen. And it’s thirteen because there’s a law in place that says it’s thirteen.

It’s not under thirteen with parental permission.

It’s not under thirteen because your kid’s peers are doing it.

It’s thirteen because of COPPA. Don’t like COPPA? Call your member of Congress and ask them to change it.

What is COPPA?

COPPA, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, prevents any website operator doing business within the United States or targeting citizens of the United States from collecting personally identifiable information about children under the age of thirteen without verifiable consent from a parent. (Written consent, verifying with a credit card, verbal consent over the phone, or receiving a digital signature from a parent.) 

It’s really that simple. Every social media app, at it’s very core, collects personally identifiable information. (name, location, email address, etc.) And nearly every social media app reserves the right to share that information with third-parties, such as marketing companies.

With that in mind… every single social media app that I’m aware of prohibits people under 13 from joining, usually by age-gating, simply asking a person registering for an account to supply their birthdate.

In order to collect personal information from people under 13 years old, the law dictates the options–

They can use a variety of methods to verify the parent’s identity, including:

  • obtaining a signed form from the parent via postal mail or facsimile;

  • accepting and verifying a credit card number;

  • taking calls from parents on a toll-free telephone number staffed by trained personnel;

  • email accompanied by digital signature;

  • email accompanied by a PIN or password obtained through one of the verification methods above.

source: COPPA.org

But that’s too cumbersome, and too costly, for most operators to deal with. So every social media website simply doesn’t allow people under thirteen to have an account.

It’s Not About Capabilities

  • “My kid can handle it.”
  • “We discussed it, so I’m going to allow it.”
  • “Every kid in my daughters class has Instagram, so whatever.”
  • “The school gave my kid an iPad that has a social media app installed, so it’s OK.”

Let’s be clear: The FCC, who oversees COPPA compliance, provides a way for people under 13 to get access to social media sites. But the operators of those sites maintain COPPA compliance by not permitting people under 13 to have an account, even if mom and dad say it’s OK.

In other words, it’s not about your permission.

And it’s not about your kids individual capabilities.

It doesn’t matter that you said it was OK. It doesn’t matter that their friends have it or that the school installed it. If they are under 13 years old and an app doesn’t provide a way for you, as a parent, to offer verifiable consent? According to the terms of service of every social media site, your child isn’t allowed to have an account until they turn thirteen. 

Don’t agree with me? Read the rules for yourself.

Report Underage Accounts

Here’s how I approach it when I encounter an underage account.

  1. I don’t engage with the child when they friend me, follow me, comment on something, etc.
  2. If I know the parent, I usually reach out to them to make sure they understand that their kid’s account isn’t allowed on the site. Since social media apps do a poor job of educating users I really think most parents just don’t know the rules.
  3. If they don’t delete it, I report the account to the social media company so that they’ll delete the account.

Here’s where you can report underage accounts:

(Feel free to add links in the comments to others)

Stand Up to Your Kids

It’s shocking to me how many parents are afraid to stand up to their 10-11-12 year old. Let me encourage you… the best thing you can do with your child is to create open dialogue about how your family uses the internet.

The worst thing you can do is give in to a young teen, allowing them to live in an online world that you pretend not to see, letting them dig in and think “this is my thing, what I do with my phone is my business.

If you are afraid to stand up to a young teen about their social media usage… what are you going to do when that same teenager is 16?

Let me tell you: Standing up to them today will be a lot easier than when they are 16.

Little problem versus big problem.

Photo credit: John KaraKatsanis via Flickr (Creative Commons)






15 responses to “When should I allow my children to get a social media account?”

  1. joepuentes Avatar

    Thanks Adam for this post. This is very helpful and needs to be shared with parents… Would you allow me to add the link to this article on my blog—I’d like to pass it on to others through my blog.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      Absolutely, you can always link. It’s people who copy/paste the posts in their entirety and put it on their blogs that drive me crazy.

      1. joepuentes Avatar

        Great! Thanks Adam. I appreciate and benefit form all your hard work. Keep doing what your doing.

  2. Tinye Harding Avatar
    Tinye Harding

    Good article Adam. I am a school board member
    and am currently listening to state education lawyers
    discuss this. One of the faults with COPPA they pointed
    out was that the age should be higher than 13.
    Personally I limit the students I follow on FB, Twitter, Instagram to close relatives, or close friend’s children.

  3. Kurt J. Avatar
    Kurt J.

    Thanks, Adam! I might tweak the answer a bit: “Thirteen…or anytime thereafter that you decide is appropriate”. I’ve never encouraged parents to set a magic minimum age that they will let their child date (sixteen, for instance) because what if their particular child isn’t mature enough date at that age, but mom and dad have, in essence, promised that sixteen is the magic number? Just because a child tuns thirteen, doesn’t mean he or she is ready to navigate the various social media seas. I’m sure this is implied in your answer, but thought I’d toss it out there. GOOD STUFF!

    P.S. April Diaz joining the Youth Cartel to help with coaching??!! Major score.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      @kurt – I totally agree. The bottom line is, we need to talk to our kids. I’m about as nerdy and social media connected as they come… and my 13 year old isn’t even interested in social media in the least. She has an iPhone that she uses sparingly… but she’s way more into online gaming and watching YouTube videos than anything else.

      And yes, we’re pumped to have April joining our team, officially on June 15. Crazy to see the team growing and LOTS of fun stuff in the pipeline.

  4. […] You can find it here: When should I allow my children to get a social media account? […]

  5. alexstreet Avatar

    Adam, I’m curious what the laws are in Canada. I could probably do the research, or I could ask you to.

    I’m asking you.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      Hi there, Alex. I don’t have a definitive answer because I’ve not done a lot of research. But I do know Canada has a privacy protection law and there are provisions for children. Here’s a link to some detailed information for the CA Gov’t: http://www.priv.gc.ca/info/topics_e.asp?aud=2

  6. […] 2. Adam McLane?—?Adam writes about youth min­istry, church life, tech stuff, and life. He’s pub­lished a cou­ple of stud­ies that you def­i­nitely need to check out. Here’s a good post to start with that def­i­nitely caught my eye: “When Should I Allow My Chil­dren to Get a Social Media Account?” […]

  7. […] Adam McLane (@mclanea) wrote a great post that is easily forwardable to your parents: “When should I allow my children to get a social media account?” CLICK TO VIEW […]

  8. rebecca Avatar

    Would love a parents of teens group……where’s the village

  9. […] an account on a social media site is not about capabilities or gaining parental permission. (see When Should I Allow My Child to Get a Social Media Account?) Creating an account on a website or app that collects personal information is about age… […]

  10. […] Adam: Actually, this isn’t about an opinion. In the United States the age is 13. A federal law called COPPA (Child Online Privacy Protection Act of 1993) prevents any online company from collecting personally identifiable information about anyone under the age of 13. I wrote about this here – http://adammclane.com/2014/06/12/allow-children-get-social-media-account/ […]

  11. […] The point of this post isn’t to convince you of that, I’ve already written extensively about it here. […]

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