Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Guest blogger: “I’m 11 and my parents know I’m on Facebook”

August 31, 2011

Guess you'll have to lie about your age

by Rosemina Nazarali

Kiwi Commons is a late-breaking news, guides and information weblog dedicated to providing readers with the most relevant and up-to-date resources available on youth Internet safety. Kiwi provides readers with a broad range of thoughts and opinions from various experts, including their own Kiwi Expert Panel, to real life stories of the youth affected by these new challenges like sexting, scams, cyberbullying and predators.

It comes as no surprise that a good portion of Facebook users lie about their ages. It does come as a surprise, however, that almost half of all 12-year-olds in the U.S. use social networking websites, despite the site requiring a minimum age of 13.

With no mechanisms in place to detect when a person is lying about their age, there’s no telling who or how many under-agers are actually using Facebook. However, Facebook has taken notice and is kicking out about 20,000 users each day, many of whom are among the 12 and under crowd.

“Facebook uses various methods to identify underage accounts, including the monitoring of information placed on the site and community reports from other users,” said Facebook’s Chief Privacy Advisor, Mozelle Thompson.

With this, however, comes an array of new questions, this time for the parents. Would you let your child lie about their age to sign-up for a social network? This is the hypothetical question that has been burning up the Internet since last week, and many of the differing answers are quite surprising.

“Not only are kids lying about their age, but more often than not, parents teach them to lie about their age,” said Danah Boyd, a social media researcher for Microsoft.

So I became curious. I wanted to know what parents on the Internet were saying about the matter, and what the justification was for either allowing or not allowing their kids to sign-up for Facebook.

Crisntina Flores, a 44-year-old mother to an 11-year-old boy said she did allow him to sign-up for Facebook because she feared he would sign-up behind her back anyway. Her son, Jake, told Facebook he is 15. “It’s not like there’s a legal limit for being on the Internet,” Flores said.

15 of 30 students in one of Jake’s fifth-grade classes are all on Facebook. “It’s lying — and about age,” said the class’s teacher, Aundrea Kaune. “What happens when they want to drink beer?”

“Allowing kids to lie by creating a profile with a false age…is a different issue than allowing activity online that, frankly isn’t even appropriate offline,” one parent, Cameron Sullivan, told the DublinPatch. “Some of my contacts on Facebook have middle-school kids whose pages are open to friends of friends. I don’t have time to waste monitoring other kids’ lives online, but on the rare occasions that I venture to their kids’ pages, I am grateful for the parents’ ignorance. The ability to see what kids are posting online provides a window into the goings-on of some middle-school kids.”

Another parent, Kari Kulac, who let her fourth-grade daughter sign-up for Facebook is starting to question her decision. “It’s only been a couple of months, but I’m unsure whether I should let her continue, not because of safety fears but because it is yet another time suck that has to be monitored along with all the other frivolous electronic pastimes (TV, etc.). I’d rather she be running around outside,” Kulac said. “The benefits, I suppose, are the social enjoyment she has getting to better know my out-of-state side of the family, including my 87-year-old grandmother.”

But it’s not just Facebook kids are fibbing on. Victoria Lai, a ninth-grade student in San Francisco, said she signed up for Yahoo! Games when she was just in the second-grade. “I always say I was born in 1986, not 1996, because it’s just one number different. Easy to remember.”

Victoria’s father, Brian Lai, says that kids “have to experience using the Internet. It’s the future.” He added, “it’s not good to lie, but you can make an exception.”

May Jay Hoal of Yoursphere brings up a point. “Parents can’t forget that Facebook was created by adults and for adults, and the adult culture that lives on Facebook is usually one that we likely wouldn’t expose our children to in the ‘real world.’”

One thing many of these Facebook users who aren’t quite honest about their age don’t realize, is that once you’ve signed up with a certain birth date on Facebook, it cannot be changed. So unless you plan on opening a new account after you hit the age of 13, you’ll be stuck appearing as the wrong age you originally input for a very long time.

After reading what all the parents had to say, I went to Kiwi Commons expert, Doreen Nicastro, to find out how she felt about young people using Facebook before they were ready.

“From both a developmental and safety standpoint, no kids under the age of 13 should have a Facebook account, period end of story,” she said. “Parents are being manipulated and bullied by their own kids to get access to social networking. The fact of the matter, it’s against Facebook terms of agreement for kids under the age of 13!”

Nicastro suggests that the adults start communicating with each other. “Parents, schools and law enforcement in communities across the world need to come together and discuss the rules of the social networking road. New tools require new rules. The problem is that schools are shutting it down, parents are too busy and stressed to get engaged, and kids are running the show.”

While parents and young people continue the ongoing argument surrounding social media use, Facebook is looking for a solution for their under-age users. They are currently considering creating a safe social network for the 12 and under population — a place meant just for kids and a way to dissuade them for signing up for Facebook before the required age.

We want to know — would you let your kids lie about their age to engage on social networking websites like Facebook?


From the “Say it isn’t so” files

January 8, 2011

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Forgive me if I’m not my usual perky self. It hasn’t been a great news day for those of us hopeful about the inherent goodness of humankind.

Let me explain. This morning I read about the arrest of six kids in Carson City, Nevada. What had these 12 and 13 year olds girls done? Apparently one dreamed up a Facebook event called “Attack a Teacher Day” and invited 100 students to join. The other five got busted for responding to online threats against specific teachers in two middle schools.  According to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune the six girls were “booked Wednesday at juvenile hall on a misdemeanor charge of communicating threats.” Thankfully a parent saw the “invite” and deleted it. No one was physically harmed.

Thinking about it, there’s so much wrong here I didn’t know where to begin. So I posted to my anti-bullying forum Cruel’s Not Cool! to start a discussion. I posed some questions: What might have been going on in the mind of a kid who thought that “attacking” teachers was a terrific idea? Why might the participants have decided to get on the bandwagon? What role does Facebook or any social media site have in monitoring illegal content like threats to someone’s life? In what ways might the charges against the tweens be totally appropriate or totally absurd? What’s the role of parents in raising kids of good character and teaching their tech savvy darlings to be responsible digital citizens?

But before any responses were posted, I read about an actual attack this afternoon. A politically motivated assassination attempt on the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). The Congresswoman took a bullet through the brain and she’s currently in critical but stable condition. So far at least 6 people are dead. Among them, an aide for the Congresswoman, a 9-year-old and U.S. District Judge John Roll.

Kids openly tease, harass, persecute and physically attack peers whom they “don’t like.” If school bullying and disrespecting teachers is ‘no big deal’ (and many students say “nothing happens” when bullying is reported), it may not take much reasoning to conclude that it’s also OK to gun down someone we disagree with. Not that anyone capable of this behavior has much in the way of reasoning powers, but you don’t need that to buy a gun.


Broken kids are breaking all of us

October 2, 2010

Yesterday my friend Rachel wrote to find out if I’d blogged yet about the cyberbullying incident that ended in a Rutgers University freshman killing himself. I told her the news had really depressed me but that I didn’t have any insights that couldn’t be found elsewhere. I mean what do you say when (yet another) teen is so victimized by bullies he/she can’t figure out what the hell to do to make things OK again and gives up everything just to end the suffering? I’ve got nothing to say. I’m sitting here crying. The casualness with which these acts of torment are perpetrated absolutely stuns me. But what else is new?

So, no.  I wasn’t going to write anything.

Then I watch Ellen Degeneres on video talking about this senseless act of cruelty. Looking straight at the camera and with obvious emotion Ellen said, “It’s hard enough being a teen and figuring out who you are without people attacking you.” To the adults watching she said, “There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting and we have to make it stop.” And to the kids watching, she offered this, “…things will get easier. People’s minds will change and you should be alive to see it.”

Still I was not going to blog about what happened to Tyler Clementi and what he did as a result. Even though his death was the fourth in a string of Welcome Back-to-School homophobic attacks on teens that ended in suicide. It all sucks, but what more is there to say?

Then I listened to Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center, a clearinghouse of information dedicated to providing information about  “…the nature, extent, causes and consequences of cyberbullying amongst adolescents.” Patchin told NPR’s Melissa Block that when he speaks to teens who use their phones and computers to commit these acts of intentional cruelty they “genuinely do not realize that harm could come from it.” He went on to say that these kids “don’t see it as something wrong.” Rather, they think of what they’re doing as “fun or funny” and “not that big of a deal.”

That’s when I knew I needed to write. The tormentors don’t see it as something wrong?! For real?!! If that’s the case then we’re looking at a whole lot of broken kids. Broken in a way that prevents them from thinking beyond the itch of “Hey I got a great idea!” So broken they blithely launch a personally addressed cluster bomb packed with malice and truly believe it’s “not a big deal.”

With kids like that as our only hope for the future we ‘d be in deep doodoo.

Fortunately, these aren’t the only kids out there. There are plenty of kids and adults who aren’t buying into the notion that any of this is fun or funny. They’re deadly serious about fighting back, supporting each other and changing the Culture of Cruelty for any kid, tween or teen who’s catching flak for being different. GLBT teens, check out Dan Savage’s new “It Gets Better” project.

Oh, and by the way, October is National Bullying Prevention Month… Don’t just sit there, be part of the solution.

UPDATE: 6:49 PM Talk about cyber-bullying, just came back from The Social Network, a cautionary tale from the Real Friends vs. The Other Kind  files. Totally worth seeing.


UPDATE: March 16, 2012 Today, a New Jersey jury found Dharun Ravi, Tyler Clementi’s former roommate guilty of bias intimidation among other charges.

UPDATE: May 21, 2012 Superior Court Judge Glen Berman handed down Dharun Ravi’s sentence: 30 days in jail and 3 years probation after having been found guilty of numerous crimes, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation (a hate crime)

Find Annie Fox: Find Annie on Facebook Find Annie on Twitter Find Annie on Pinterest Find Annie on YouTube Find Annie on Google+ Find Annie on LinkedIn Find Annie on Goodreads Find Annie on Quora