The U.K.’s ‘Under-Aged’ Socially Networked Children

According to a new study by the London School of Economics, one in every three children in the U.K. between 9 and 12 has his/her own Facebook page, despite Facebook’s minimum age requirement of 13. Among 13-16 year-olds, that number shoots to 43 percent.

The study, titled Social Networking, Age and Privacy, looked at trends among 25,000 young people across Europe. Researchers noted that European children are taking undue risks online:

A quarter of 9-16 year-olds on social networking sites across Europe have their profile set to ‘public’. One fifth of children whose profile is public display their address and/or phone number, twice as many as for those with private profiles. However, children in the U.K. tended to be more careful – only 10 per cent have their profiles set to ‘public.’

The study’s authors argue that removing age restrictions from sites like Facebook might actually be the best way of improving child safety online.

Elisabeth Staksrud, from the University of Oslo and one of the report’s authors comments that: “since children often lie about their age to join ‘forbidden’ sites it would be more practical to identify younger users and to target them with protective measures.”

This flies in the face of what many see as a critical security wall  protecting children from cyber-crime on social networking sites. A report released in January by Internet security firm PandaLabs identified Facebook and Twitter as the sites which are most prone to security breaches. The danger is particularly accute when young children enter their real personal information on their profile. Though, as the new research indicates, children are already lying about their age to sign up for a profile. So from a safety standpoint, the most important measure for children to take is to refrain from entering real information such as their address or where they go to school.

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  1. AnnMaria says:

    My daughter signed up for a Facebook account at 7 a.m. on her thirteenth birthday. Before that, she did not have one, even though I know many of her friends did. We had a conversation that went like this, “You are not 13. You are not lying to get an account. We are against lying in this family.”

    Of course, we had this argument many times and she had many counterpoints to it, including that her father and I are old and stupid.

    Do the parents of these children feel comfortable with their kids on Facebook? Or is it just less trouble to give in? This strikes me as yet another aspect of not treating our children like children, similar to the 11-year-old girls wearing the same clothes to school that my daughters in their twenties wear to go clubbing.

    The best way of improving child safety online or offline is for families to watch out for their kids.

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    • Tim says:

      Strange belief system AnnMaria – might be suitable for an Amish lifestyle but to tell your kids “we do not lie in this family” in the digital age is very dangerous.

      Certainly my children (8 and 6) are being encouraged to give false information or no information to sites/companies unless it is truly required to give correct information.

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  2. Kristof says:

    Why not make a privacy protected page the default for youngsters (or everyone for that matter) instead of a full public page. Decide what you want to make public, not what you want to keep private.

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    • Uthor says:

      Beacuse Facebook only works if people share. The more sharing, the more connections, the bigger it gets, the more money it makes*.

      *The last point is just a biproduct of the objective of Facebook. Even without the money, it’d be in FB’s best interest to make as much public as possible.

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      • steven says:

        But if we’re just speaking about underage users, from a purely profit standpoint, it makes better sense to give them a protected page default now (and getting them hooked) than making them wait for a public page default later. If there are no other separate issues of course…

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  3. Syam says:

    All FB users ultimate aim is to get as many likes and comments on their profiles. So they keep posting more private pictures like hugging, kissing, etc. Simply saying, Facebook is right now synonymous to smoking!
    “Facebook is injurious to health” and that bug has bitten kids also now, unfortunately!!!

    Regards,
    Syam
    http://www.funny-illustrations.blogspot.com/

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  4. gpo says:

    My 10 year old niece sent me a friend request about a month ago. No way I am accepting that. I have a 10 year old daughter and I am glad we don’t live in the same state as my niece. Luckily I don’t get asked much by my daughter. My wife won’t even let her have a texting app for her ipod touch. Baby steps. On the converse my daughter does have a TV in her room. That is something her friends get jealous of.

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  5. Sheila says:

    We allowed our kids to have a Facebook once they hit middle school, but they are required to be “Friends” with us so we can keep tabs on them. At the end of the day the responsibility needs to be the parent’s to determine whether their child is mature enough to handle it, and to make sure safeguards are taken. Kids don’t magically grow common sense about online privacy just because they turn 14. Parents still need to exercise vigilance. The problem with expecting FB to automatically set underage users pages to “private” is that in that case parents are allowing someone else to take the responsibility for protecting their kids, as well as expecting a company in business to make money to act against its own economic self-interests. Not gonna happen.

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  6. Caitlin says:

    The age of kids joining social networking sites like Facebook keeps getting younger and younger with each passing year; kids starting at 9 years old are starting to want a Facebook. I think that the cause of it is social pressure. When Facebook became available to the public, many people started using it. Today, so many people of all ages use it to keep up with their long-distance friends or keep up in the gossip of school. For kids in high school and below, social pressures can occur, making it seem “un-cool” to not have a Facebook. To join the social norm, many students will join the site. This leads to an increase in supply of people on Facebook. As more and more people join, more people are pressured into creating a site of their own, which leads to an increase in demand as well. But this increase in demand due to societal pressures can happen at a very young age. Facebook has an age minimum on their site, and they put it up because when you are 13, you have most likely learned the how-tos of the Internet and what to not put online. But if someone is below that age, they might not know all the dangers of the Internet, but still create one anyway. The demand is met for certain kids under the age of 13, but the demand is met at a high cost. They could be susceptible to many of the ugly parts of the Internet. To fix this problem but still help meet the demand of the population, Facebook should lower the age but make sure that if the child is under 13, then they have extra security onto their website. This would help meet the demand of young kids wanting a Facebook, but also protect them from dangers. But the question arises, how young is too young? Facebook will have to take a step back and think of a proper way to fix the problem, but still meet the demand of the people who want to have a Facebook.

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  7. Lyrics says:

    Yep, i agree that removing age restrictions from sites like Facebook might actually be the best way of improving child safety online, cause we can not prohibit them from access to internet, so try to show them the right way is better. Tell them what to watch, what to listen, …
    http://www.5lyrics.com

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  8. Michael says:

    If parents would take more time to talk to their children and get involved with them, then they would have better communication. Maybe you need to install Spy cams in their rooms to see that they are who you think they are and have a better way of correcting their paths if not.Go to spycamsrus dot com. and see what is available on the market. Help protect your children now not when it is too late.

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