Here’s a little law I like to keep handy as the mother of a tween: COPPA.
Maybe you don’t know me really well, but I’m here to tell you that I am a rule follower. In fact, I would have considerer myself a rule follower extraordinaire until recent years. Except when it comes to the speed limit, because maybe I sometimes have a lead foot. I’m admit to nothing.
In my old age, (because 40 is old?…or maybe not. I’d like to think not, but have you seen the new mommies at the parks lately? I could be their mom. Ack!) I’ve finally begun to examine rules and decide if they are really worthy of being followed (such as yielding to oncoming traffic) or not (such as where I may or may not choose to chew a piece of gum). It’s quite possible I’m becoming something of a rebel in some ways.
Back to COPPA. It’s a rule, actually a LAW, that I am ever so happy to have in my back pocket as a parent. In fact it has become something of a scapegoat, if you will. I’m not ashamed of this fact either.
So. What is COPPA? It’s the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. It exists to provide proper boundaries and safeguards for your children online. That’s a good thing.
You can go read the complete ruling here, but if you want the Maria simplified version of the law, it goes something like this:
Our children cannot legally have social media accounts until they are 13. The information they are allowed to give out is regulated. Sites for children (Nick Jr, Disney, Webkinz, etc.) require parental approval before being activated. Plus lots of other blah blah blah. It’s an actual law. And it’s for their protection.
You parents of littles, tuck that piece of knowledge in your back pocket. You might need it when they turn 11 and begin pestering your for a smartphone and whatever social media is the current rage in 5 or 10 years.
I want to preface the rest of this post with the disclaimer that this is my personal opinion and experience from here on out. You can agree or not. But that fact that COPPA exists means you should at least take the time to consider what you may be doing for or to your children if you choose to bypass it or pretend it doesn’t exist.
My son who is 11, almost 12, is just now really beginning to understand what social media is and it’s purpose. He hears me mumble and grumble about how people seem to forget all the manners their mother taught them when they log in. He hears me laugh out loud at a funny video. He knows that I ask permission before ever posting a picture of him, so he is aware of personal boundaries and that I value and protect his privacy.
I could do what many other parents of children his age have done and hand him a smart phone and turn him loose, then tag him and brag and possibly humiliate the life out of him on Facebook or Instagram. I could monitor his interactions to the nth degree and hope for the best. I could hope that I have taught him enough so that he will create a positive digital footprint. But here’s the truth. It’s really simple, actually. I don’t want him to have to filter through all of that yet. I just don’t. And it’s not legal.
He and all of his peers are at a developmental stage where every emotion is laid bare and good sense is overrun by hormone insanity. It’s not unique to him. So many hormones. So little time. Learning to interact with his peers face to face is hard enough without adding the burden of communicating online. (Did you know middle schoolers are mostly horridly cruel, mean little people with very little consideration for the feelings of others? Truly. I am not even kidding a little bit.)
When I handed the social media reigns over to my daughter and let her set up an Instagram account, we talked about her “personal brand” and how she was going to start building it with every post she made and every comment she left on other people’s posts. Colleges and employers are going to look at that brand. Her friends would see it. So might her first crush. Or some creepy guy pretending to be 14. What did she want her brand to say about her and how could she protect it and be safe online?
I am ever so glad we decided to wait until she was thirteen to set her loose on social media. And we started with just one platform while she found her way. She’s now on Twitter and Facebook as well, but uses those sparingly because she doesn’t really like them.
I’ll happily remind my son everyday until his 13th birthday that there is a law called COPPA and it’s for his own protection. Not that he’s asked yet. He’s too busy playing soccer and Minecraft and riding his RipStick and building forts.
And I happen to like it that way.