Social media lying at age of 8

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:00 20/09/2012

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Nelson children as young as 8 are faking their way into social media sites by using a second date of birth that puts them above the services' age restrictions, an internet safety expert says.

Nelson-based internet safety and risk assessment consultant John Parsons said he had recently spoken to a number of young pupils at schools around the region, and what he had heard had shocked him.

In a survey of 100 children aged 8, 9 and 10, 66 had admitted to having a Facebook account, with an average of 320 friends.

Mr Parsons said parents were raising a generation of children with two dates of birth.

They had their real one "when they get presents", and another that they created to gain entry to social networks like Facebook, which requires users to be 13 and over.

Often their stated date of birth on such networks gave them an age in their 20s.

"They have an intimate connection with their fake one as well, they know their age online.

"It's a strange thing to see 8 and 9-year-olds quote that age back to you quite seamlessly."

Allowing children to lie their way into social networks did not send the right message, and was akin to teenagers using a fake ID to enter a local bar.

"What's the defence if they are doing it at this age?"

By allowing them to fake such details, it was teaching children that it was OK to manipulate their identity. "There's a falseness to that that is slightly disturbing," he said.

Yanking the children off the site would not work, he said.

"Once the gate's been opened, that torrent of water is rushing through, it's really difficult to close that door."

Instead, parents needed to be involved in their children's online lives, and look at what their children were being exposed to.

"Look at the kind of things they are accessing, how they are communicating with their friends, what kind of things are they seeing."

Henley School principal John Armstrong said Facebook was blocked on the school's network, but he did know of pupils who signed up and used the service at home.

"That concerns me. It comes down to supervision from parents.

"They then can go home and post stuff about people that can cause problems coming back into the school."

Facebook was a site for mature students and adults, he said.

"I don't really think it has a place for primary school students. I would rather see them using their time more productively and interacting face-to-face at that age."

Nelson Central School principal Paul Potaka said Facebook was not yet an issue at the school, though he expected it would only be a matter of time.

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The school had cybersafety policies and procedures and staff had done training on the subject, he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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