in Technology

Under 13 in the Online World

What is COPPA

Thirteen seems to be a magic number for children to create and access accounts on the Internet. This is due to the Child’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which specifies what information companies and people under U.S. jurisdiction can collect about children under 13. According to COPPA, a site’s privacy policy should specify that the site will protect the privacy of children under 13. Website operators who collect personal information need to get parental permission before children under 13 can join and use the site. Many sites find it an arduous process, and simply prohibit use by children under 13. This includes Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Skype, Gmail, etc.

Parent Adherence to Terms of Service

In a recent parent workshop for parents of children in Grades PK to 5 that I led on Technology Throughout the Generations, parents were split over whether or not to let their children join a social media site, where the terms of service limit use to children over 13. Some parents spoke of peer pressure, where all their child’s friends were allowed social media accounts. Others shared their reasons for, and approaches to, allowing their child who is under 13 to use Instagram or Facebook.

My Perspective on Violating Terms of Service

My inclination has always been to restrict the use of social media by children under 13. I’m always discomfited by the subterfuge necessary for children to create social media accounts when they are under 13. The age specified in the terms of use of companies, is a requirement, not a suggestion. Is circumventing that requirement akin to buying cigarettes or alcohol for a child who doesn’t meet the age requirement in your city?

I sometimes wonder whether I’m simply preaching compliance, and whether that’s the most important thing. I don’t think thatI am motivated by compliance, but rather the development appropriateness of social media tools and the well-being of our children and families. I think that violating the terms of use of websites requires careful consideration, about lying and when it’s okay, privacy, online safety, rights and responsibilities, and citizenship.

Making Choices as a Family

Ultimately, I think that each family is responsible to decide on their own rules of engagement, to specify whether they will comply to the terms of use of various websites, and to be purposeful and deliberate about choosing how the members of the family engage with internet resources. If you and your family are deciding whether to allow your child on Social Media, read this great guide from Common Sense Media. Whatever decision you make, be clear about it as a family. Understand the issues, and make a choice, rather than simply following the edicts of anyone else.

Related Resources

Learn more about COPPA from  Wikipedia, and this guide from the Federal Trade Commission.

If you would like to know more about social media and teens, look up danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated.


This post was inspired by this prompt for the #EdublogsClub challenge. The prompt was to “write a write a post about student privacy”.