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.
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.
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.
- I don’t engage with the child when they friend me, follow me, comment on something, etc.
- 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.
- 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:
- Snapchat (I’ve contacted them about a URL for non-users to report abuse 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.