Parents Know Their Underage Children Join Facebook—and Often Help Them Sign Up, Survey Shows

Many parents know that their underage children are on Facebook in violation of the site’s restrictions and are often complicit in helping their children join the site, according to a study led by Danah Boyd, a research assistant professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The findings, which appeared in First Monday, a peer-reviewed online journal, coincide with a federal review of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA mandates that web sites obtain “verifiable parental consent” before collecting information on children under 13. Facebook has a minimum age requirement of 13.

The national survey, conducted in July 2011, included 1,007 U.S. parents who have children living with them between the ages of 10 and 14. Among its findings were the following:

    • Twelve is the mean age at which parents of current 13- and 14-year-olds reported that their child joined Facebook.
    • Thirty-six percent of all parents surveyed knew that their child joined Facebook before the age of 13; 68 percent of these parents helped their child create their account.
    • Fifty-five percent of parents of 12-year-olds report their child has a Facebook account; 82 percent of these parents knew when their underage child signed up and 76 percent assisted in creating the account.
    • Fifty-three percent of parents think Facebook has a minimum age; 35 percent of these parents think that it is a recommendation and not a requirement.

Boyd is a faculty member in Steinhardt’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, which supported the project. The study’s other authors included: Eszter Hargittai of Northwestern University, Jason Schultz of the University of California, Berkeley, and John Palfrey of Harvard University.

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New York University