On Websites, What Age is the Right Age?

Is it OK for your child to visit a site with age restrictions, register, and then fib about his or her age?

Recently at my nearby public library I overheard a conversation between two parents. Discussing a fairly well-known website and its age requirements, one parent commented that she was not letting her child use the site because the rules said users must be 13, and her child was not yet 13. The other parent, whose child was in the same grade, thought that the age limits were ridiculous, so she allows her child to sign up and pretend to be age 13. “We are just fudging a bit,” she said (laughed).

My question — is this just fudging, or is a parent sending a message that it is OK to put false data into website information blanks? It’s tricky, because kids eagerly learn things that we don’t intend for them to learn. Even if we think a rule is silly, do we really want to encourage our children to break the rules that they think are silly? Are there other alternatives?

I am uncomfortable when children and parents disregard age specifications, especially on a website that promotes itself for individuals of a certain age. To me this age-fudging feels like a slippery slope, down which an experimenting adolescent will happily slide when another, less appropriate web site beckons. And most likely it will be a site that  a parent does not want a child to visit.

Moreover, enough entertainment sites are around for children of any age — no one needs to pretend.

Sultan concludes, “… there’s a message being sent to a child whose parents openly disregard the terms of use set by a site. They are telling their children that online, rules are clearly meant to be broken.”

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