In a world where Tori Spelling's 3-year-old son has a Twitter account and toddlers are making Lady Gaga videos on YouTube, it's increasingly difficult for parents to refuse their kids access to Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, YouTube, and other social networking sites.
And yet we're also living in a world in which 1 in 5 U.S. children say they do things online that their parents wouldn't approve of, according to a 2007 Norton Online Living Report. We know that kids are supposed to be 13 to use social networking sites, but even ultra-responsible parents often throw in the towel and let their kids fake their birthdates and create accounts.
Why? In the words of one mom who let her 11-year-old daughter have a Facebook page, "All her friends were on it."
Parents are simply outgunned -- by peer pressure, pop culture, and an Internet-centric lifestyle. Having a Facebook page has become a modern rite of passage. In fact, a Pangea Media poll found that most tweens would rather give up TV than the Internet.
Many parents who relent do have conditions: Their kids have to "friend" them, adhere to time limits, use privacy settings, and behave responsibly -- as in no trash talking, cyberbullying, sexting, or chatting with strangers. But the bottom line is that there's a reason that most adult social networking sites set 13 as their entry age.
According to the Children's' Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), different rules govern the information that companies can collect on users younger than 13. And if companies do collect information on kids under 13, they're required to tell the kids' parents. These rules are there to protect kids from being taken advantage of.
So you have to ask yourself what message you're sending your kids if you knowingly let them break a site's age rules. Times have changed. Instead of explaining why kids can't see a grown-up movie, more often than not we're explaining why they can't join a grown-up social space. But you're still the parent. And you are the expert on your kids.