38% of Facebook Users Are Underage

Proving perhaps that Digital Age youngsters learn to lie about their age at an early stage in life and that their parents are willing accomplices, a new survey has revealed that nearly 2 out of every five kids with Facebook accounts are younger than the social networking site’s minimum age requirement. That’s according to the parents themselves.

The survey of 1,000 parents who have Facebook-using children under 18 years of age found that 38% of the children with accounts are 12 years old or younger. Facebook’s minimum age, which users must swear to when they sign up, is 13.

Meanwhile, 74% of the same parents claim to have concerns about their children’s safety on Facebook, the greatest worry being sexual predators (56%). About half of the parents said they monitor their children’s Facebook activities by logging onto their child’s account. 24% monitor their kids by “friending” them. 17% said they do not monitor their children’s Facebook usage at all. 30% of parents in the survey also reported that their children had experienced some form of cyberbullying, and about the same number said their kids spend two hours or more per day on Facebook.

Of the children in the sample who use Facebook, 40 were reported by their parents to be 6 years old or younger.

The survey was conducted by MinorMonitor, a web-based parental tool that gives parents a way to view their child’s Facebook activities and friends through knowledge-based analytics.

Ed. Note: Even if the results are in some way skewed to MinorMonitor’s mission, the basic results are in line with other studies.

Consumer Reports found in a study last year that 7.5 million profiles on Facebook are operated by users younger than 13 years old. A large majority are 10. The study also found lax parental monitoring to be common. 

I’m not sure why Facebook picked 13 as the age when a child is considered Facebook-ready, but it’s clear there are some significant digital literacy issues lurking in the social media playground. 

How is it that so many parents approve of their children lying to get access to Facebook? How can three quarters of the same parents also claim to be concerned about safety issues? And while we are on the subject, how can the remaining 26% of parents NOT be concerned?

The survey results reveal something fundamentally illogical and dysfunctional about our perceptions and use of Facebook and other social networking sites. 

The surveyed parents seem to be in denial about Internet safety at the same time they are worried about it. Are we as a society winking at the kids and telling them that some rules in cyberspace can be freely ignored? Would those same parents hand their car keys to their 14-year-old and tell them to be careful because it’s dangerous out there on the road? No. That’s because we know and understand the technology of cars and the environment of streets and highways. We have learned that with cars there is a balance between benefit and threat, and we have developed rules (laws) and processes (driver training) to minimize the dangers. 

Not only is the technology new, so is its place in the social interactions of the society. On the one hand, it’s clear that social networking is now intrinsic and increasingly important for social intercourse. On the other hand, it can be dangerous and addictive. Most parents and kids have little firsthand experience with facing Internet threats and learning to deal with them. Most parents and kids also have had little or no social media training.

The technology of the Internet and sites like Facebook are still new enough that the threats aren’t clear, so the rules are still fuzzy. It’s not that Facebook is not explicit in its rules–it claims that it evicts 20,000 members per day, but how many because of age violations the company doesn’t say. I’m not sure how Facebook busts the underage perps, but one thing is clear: Social consensus has not formed solidly around a set of realistic and enforceable rules. 

As a society we are obligated in our own best interest to understand the technology more deeply and to develop not only literacy 2.0 skills, but also literacy 2.0 wisdom. We need rules, but we need social norms even more.

The big question is, can broad user awareness and social norms evolve fast enough to keep up with the technology?

Image: MinorMonitor

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