Sunday, March 19, 2017
Should I let my child lie about age to get on Facebook?
Is it OK to lie about a child's age so he or she can get onto a popular social media site?
After all, few of the major social media sites ask for any proof of age, so who's going to care if a 12-year-old kid adds a year to his age by typing into the registration form for a site like Facebook and add a year to his life by indicating he was born the year before he actually was born. Boom. Online with his older friends, new friends, strangers posing as friends, and the massive newsfeed that follows.
Some parents make the case for allowing their children to fudge about their real age to gain access because they insist their child friend them or allow themselves to be followed on whatever social media site they sign up for. "I know what he's doing out there," one reader told me. "So I've nothing to worry about."
If a parent can monitor his child's activity on a social media site, does that make it OK to lie about the kid's age to get him on the site in the first place?
I'm sure that somewhere in all of the registration forms and click boxes needed to gain access to a particular site that we're all asked to confirm somehow that our answers are honest and accurate. I'm not a contracts lawyer, but I suspect that lying about your age on a contract to gain access to social media is not a good thing. Still, I've yet to read a case about a 12-year-old kid being hauled off to court because he pretended to be 13.
If parents can monitor their kids and the site isn't going to prosecute if you lie to it about your age, what could possibly be wrong with permitting a kid to sign up for a social media site before he or she meets the minimum age requirement?
How about this explanation offered to me by one of the smartest parents of teenagers I know? "If the first interaction your child has with social media is one of lying, why would you be surprised when a child posts inappropriate material or lies on the site?"
While it might seem innocuous to permit a child to add a few months to his life so he can poke or share or post to his heart's delight, a parent sending this kind of message that it's OK to lie to get what you want makes an impression. If it's OK to lie to get on Facebook, is it also OK to lie to get a better grade? Or to get a pet from an animal shelter? Or to get a fake ID card? Or to torment someone else on a social media site by trolling them and misrepresenting who you really are?
There are many opportunities parents have to nurture shared values with their kids. If honesty is one of those value, then the right thing when asked about lying about age to gain social media access is to say no. Feeling 13 is not the same as being 13.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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