Caveat: This is more of a geek dad post and, although there are educational lessons to be learned, I’m not going into that aspect too much.
Most websites that require an account have a lower age limit of 13. And most youngsters under the age of 13 either click the ‘Yes, I am over 13’ button or lie about their age in order to get in. As teachers, we are sometimes frustrated when we want to use sites like Animoto, Prezi, Xtranormal and other sites. So why IS there an age limit?
The issue was brought to a head for me this week because of Facebook (which operates the same age restriction). My 10 year old son signed up 6 months ago, although he doesn’t know the password and his email notifactions go to me first. All has been fairly well and about half of his class is signed up, along with about half of the parents – and everyone seems to be everyone else’s friend.
As part of his Catholic school’s work in Years 5 and 6 there was a trip organised to visit a Mosque, and some of the parents were less than happy about this (although I don’t want to turn this into a religious debate so I won’t go into the details). The debate (running through the comments on one of the parent’s status updates) got quite heated and some very harsh, ignorant and upsetting things were said. All in full view of the 10 year old pupils who were meant to be going on this trip.
The issue I’m taking here is not that some parents disagreed, or that some were spiteful and ignorant, but that 10 year old children were able to read this stuff. And I, as a parent, had to have a long, hard think about whether I really want my son to be using Facebook if this is the stuff he might have to wade through. Had he browsed to a site with this kind of stuff on I would be worried.
Thakfully, the parent removed the status completely, along with all record of the comments and after a discussion with Mrs. Clarkson, the decision is to stick to the status quo. It does raise an issue, however, about the way some ‘grown-ups’ use Facebook and I’m still not entirely happy about my son reading about some middle-aged woman’s drunken night out and subsequent one-night stand. (Note: That hasn’t actually happened AFAIK, but you see my point).
So that is why there are age limits, and that is why we need to make certain that younger children are supervised in these potentially harmful environments.