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COLUMN: Don't oppose the use of technology for younger generations

Facebook announced this week its new messaging app for kids. Messenger Kids allows photo sharing, video calling and texting under the explicit supervision of a parent or guardian. 

Social media is already permeating every aspect of society, but now people are questioning how young is too young to participate in this social technology. 

Our parents’ generation grew up with limited access to technology and virtually no access to social media until people were well into adulthood. The home computer was not a concept until 1971, let alone laptops, cell phones or social media. 

Generations Y and Z were born into the world of portable and easily accessible internet, as well as a slew of technology that enhances how we communicate with one another. For the first time, a generation was born that has never known life without internet.

Although it is important to emphasize interpersonal interaction beyond phones and computers, there is no reason to discourage younger generations from engaging in the technology available to them. 

The internet has made information accessible to virtually anyone, regardless of social class or ability. Social media has made it feasible to speak to family and friends who are far way without the cost of long-distance calling or the wait of the postal service. 

The internet coupled with social media offers opportunities not previously available to generations at such a young age – and that’s a good thing.

We now have a generation of kids growing up with basic knowledge of Microsoft Office, online search engines and social media websites. This means that when the time comes to utilize these in the workplace or in school, kids will be less likely to struggle with technology-related learning curves. 

Yet not everyone is excited by this premise. The main concern about apps and websites targeting this young demographic is privacy and safety concerns – with good reason. 

With a spike in internet usage by kids, parents are concerned about predatory adults on the internet. It is estimated that 86 percent of children ages 5-7 and 96 percent of children ages 8-11 are regularly active on the internet.  

Children are especially vulnerable online. They could release too much information such as their names, whereabouts and pictures. 

More than 82 percent of online sex crimes originate from social media sites. The idea that children younger than 18 use social media coupled with these statistics have parents worried. 

However, the discussion needs to revolve around internet safety rather than mere internet usage. 

The world of technology is growing every day to include various security measures to ensure the privacy and security of users, especially minors. 

In April of 2000 the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted to help aid this conversation as well as direct parents on how to ensure the safety of their children when they use the internet.

COPPA said all websites must require parental consent for collection or use of any personal information of online users under the age of 13. The Federal Trade Commission's commentary on COPPA urges websites to require a confirmation email from a parent when a child is signing up for social media.

Most social media websites, including some email providers, require parental consent to sign up for services. Some, like the Messenger Kids app, require a parent to set up the account and monitor it.

Having conversations with children about the content they post and who they talk to online is the best way to ensure children’s online safety – without discouraging the advances technology has to offer. 


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