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Ofcom, a communications industry regulator and media watchdog, said that one in five children, 19%, between eight and 12 years old use social media sites such as Facebook, Bebo or MySpace. This is despite these sites officially having an age limit of 13.
The report included Internet audience data that showed that 37 % of home Internet users aged between five and seven visited Facebook in October 2009.
One in six parents didn’t know their children were on social networks.
More than 90 per cent of parents who are aware that their children have social media profiles say that they regularly check their child’s activity on the site(s).
The figures spark a debate about how Facebook and other sites police the age of their users. Though these sites insist that users type in their age, there is no verification process.
“There is a enough media coverage about online grooming and cyber bullying that parents may rightly panic about the dangers of the Internet,”
So what is appropriate?
Are our kids pretending to play with puffles and penguins but actually battling it on on Facbook Mafia Wars or playing a few hands of online poker star?
Children can feel empowered online because it seems anonymous. Online personalities they develop are often bolder than in reality. A sense of immunity can have safety implications. “A child who wouldn’t think of speaking to a stranger on the street might chat to one online” .In the same Garlik poll, about a quarter of 8 to 15-year-olds said they had strangers as “friends” on their networking pages.
It is proven that if you prohibit children they will find another way. “There are so many access points to the internet – laptops, game consoles, even school computers. Trying to keep your child away completely is futile. “If you put up a barrier, you’re more likely to push your child into doing things online secretly. It’s far better to keep communication open.”
Childnet recommends setting up your own page, partly as a talking point but also as a way to monitor your children’s pages. Everything is worth discussing!
I asked a group of 14 year olds what they thought and they concluded that 13 was an appropriate age for kids to use social media sites. It seemed to them that the younger kids were just going there to play the Facebook games and that some of the content they were exposed to would encourage inappropriate profile pictures or trying to grow up to fast.
On the other side reading a blog posting today Taking South Korea, where 62% of 3-5 year olds regularly use the web, as an example, the country’s children regularly top the world’s education league tables and are reported to display a great willingness to work together to solve problems and help each other out. Whether their individual IQ is effected is unclear, but importantly they demonstrate a community intelligence where they are more informed and make better choices as a result. The way they communicate and interact as human beings is evolving, facilitated by the social web.
While it seems likely that proper use of the English language will suffer as a result of the text generation, the limitations of communicating via status updates is an unknown. Maybe it’s my responsibility as a Gen X parent to ensure that kids read books and not just skims web articles?