Who Owns Your Teen’s Social Media Accounts?

Well, parents, you don’t. Nor do you have much control over them even though your teen is a minor in your care, control and living under your roof.

teen-cell-phoneRight now in the U.S., millions of kids are old enough to have a smartphone, but not old enough to legally or safely use social media. Well, maybe they aren’t old enough to have a smartphone either, but they have one anyway. Survey results vary, but the general consensus is that the average age at which kids get a cell phone is around 10. Nowadays, that’s probably a smartphone – a handheld computer that is immediately connected to the world via the internet and social media.

Just having a smartphone isn’t dangerous in and of itself. In fact, if used responsibly, it’s actually safer to have one than not. Parents can contact the child any time, and the child in turn can call or message someone if there’s a problem. In a nutshell, that’s the good part of being connected.

Being connected also has a downside. Once a child is communicating digitally, a whole new set of risks presents itself – predator risk, cyberbullying, general creepers and exposure to adult “stuff” which can lead to growing up too fast, among other things. Social media can be a gateway to that connection outside a tween’s immediate group of friends.

The legality thing is less a big deal. Sure kids aren’t supposed join a social network before the age of 13, but they aren’t going to get in trouble for doing so. What they do lose is the protection provided by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which serves to protect them and their personal information from advertisers.

So what if your smartphone-wielding, digitally savvy 10-year old joins a social network without your permission? Allow us to explain.

One important consideration is that many tweens, when joining a social network for the first time, either immediately forget the password or fat finger the email address. On networks like Instagram, they don’t send a confirmation email before account activation, so an account can be established and be accessible via smartphone but the tween will have no way to change the email address, password or delete the account.

Let’s say a parent finds out about the rogue account. Perhaps there has been an incident of cyberbullying, or that the child has revealed too many personal details. That parent would naturally tell the child to delete the account. If the minor is unable to delete the account, the parent should be able to request that the social network do so. Turns out it’s not that simple.

In our opinion, if the parent of any minor, no matter the age, wants a minor’s social media account deleted, she should he able to make that happen. In the U.S., that’s not the case. If your child is between the ages of 13 and 17 – still a minor in your care – a social network is under no obligation to delete an account or even respond to your request. If your child is 13 or under, the social network is required to delete the account, but only if they have “actual knowledge” that the child is under 13.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who should be kind of a big deal on issues such as these, has the following to say on the matter:

“As a parent, you have rights covering the collection of your children’s information online when they’re under 13. Learn more about COPPA — the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act — which requires sites and services to get your approval before they collect, use or disclose your child’s information.”

If your under-13 child has joined a social network, that network has collected personal information on your child. If you contact the social network and tell them/prove that your child is under 13, they have actual knowledge. Again, it’s not that simple.

Some networks make it next to impossible for parents to contact them. Others simply ignore the requests unless there is proof, such as a birth date, in the profile of the account.

Regardless of their business model, the social networks are in the business of amassing large numbers of users. To allow parents to delete minors’ accounts would run contrary to that goal.

What we think parents deserve is the ability, upon furnishing proof of a minor’s age and the relationship, to have underage accounts deleted easily, and in a timely fashion. Until that happens, we advise parents to establish firm guidelines before handing over that first smartphone.




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