Is It FaceBook or Bust?

Ever since Anthony Orsini, the principal of the Ridgewood, NJ middle school, wrote an impassioned letter to his students’ parents imploring them to unplug Facebook, there has been a healthy debate whether social network sites are appropriate for middle school students.

Here are some facts that can help us with this national discussion. Facebook asserts that their site does not allow students under the age 13 to even join the network. Of course, Facebook is depending on the user to self-police oneself. Shockingly, that’s not working out so well.

If s/he does join another site, your tween has online legal rights provided by COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. According to the OnGuard Net Cetera booklet, “COPPA requires websites to get parental consent before collecting or sharing information from children under 13. The law covers sites designed for kids under 13 and general audience sites that know certain users are under 13. COPPA protects information that websites collect upfront and information that your kids give out or post later. COPPA also requires these sites to post a privacy policy in a spot that’s plain to see. The policy must provide details about what kind of information the site will collect and what it might do with the information — for example, if it plans to use the information to target advertising to your kids or to give the information to other companies. The policy also should state whether those other companies have agreed to keep the information safe and confidential.”

In any case, if your tween wants to explore a social network site, and you want him or her to demonstrate appropriate  netiquette, check out the Common Sense Media’s guide to social network sites:

“Believe it or not, Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only cool social networking sites on the Web. If your kids are too young for Facebook, or you’re concerned about privacy, consider looking into some lesser-known social networking sites geared for tweens, preteens, and yes, even teenagers. We’ve rounded-up some of the top social networking sites that allow kids to keep a tighter rein on their privacy. Our choices include sites that limit the ways you connect with friends, offer greater control over how you interact, or home in on specific interests. Some of the sites for kids on the younger end of the scale offer more parental controls, too, so you can have a better sense of what your kid is doing online. Before registering for any of these sites, be sure to read our Social Networking Tips and share them with your kid, so the whole family is on the same page about safe and responsible social networking behavior. The sites on this list are geared for kids 8-15. For younger kids looking to interact on the Web, check out our list of Virtual World Games.”

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