Should children be allowed to join online communities?

by Martin Reed on 30 May 2008 in Articles

Children and online communities

Many readers of this blog will manage online communities of their own. One issue that you may have thought about is whether to allow children to join your community. Is it morally acceptable to allow children to join a community that is also used by adults? This article will attempt to address the key issues and help you make the right choice.

How old is a ‘child’?

How do you define a ‘child’? Is it anyone under the age of 16? 18? Maybe even 21? In any case, it is difficult to come to a universally accepted definition of how old children can be before being classed as adults. For argument’s sake, let’s say anyone under the age of 18 should be considered a child. Surely it is acceptable for 17 year olds to mix with 25 year olds? Is it fair to place 17 year olds in the same age group as 8 year olds?

What is the subject matter of the online community?

An online community based around adult activities such as gambling or even dating shouldn’t allow children to become members. Children are vulnerable members of society and there are some types of content that they need not be exposed to.

On the other hand, if an online community is based around video games is it fair to ban everyone under the age of 18 from registering? Should people be allowed to share their interests on such a topic with everyone, regardless of age?

What proportion of members are children?

If a community has a large majority of adults, it is clearly not a place where children should be. If your online community has only a tiny minority of under 18s, you should consider only allowing adults to be members. The last thing you want is for that child to come across inappropriate content. Not only does this become a moral issue, but it could also cause you problems if the story made the press, or even if a concerned parent decided to pursue a legal complaint against you.

In any case, if the vast majority of a community’s members are adults, children will not add value; indeed, they may even turn its core audience off.

What safety features does the online community have?

All online communities have a duty to keep their members as safe as possible. It doesn’t matter if a site is only for people over the age of 50; it should still incorporate basic safety features such as a system for blocking or ignoring certain users, and a system that allows users to report content they are uncomfortable with.

Online communities should also offer clear, prominent safety advice at all times, regardless of the demographic they are targeting.

So, should you allow children to join your online community?

I don’t allow users under the age of 18 to register or use Just Chat. This wasn’t always the case, though. When I started the site back in March 2000, I had no age restrictions whatsoever – indeed, I actually had a ‘teen’ chat room. Although the site was open to all, I enforced a clear ‘family friendly’ ethos – no adult, sexual or abusive content was allowed.

As time went on and the site gained in popularity, I decided to only allow access to users over the age of 18. I did this because I felt increasingly uncomfortable with having what I consider to be vulnerable users on my website. Just Chat is moderated as often as possible, but this doesn’t ensure safety – children could still be contacted by adults in private chat which couldn’t be moderated on a ‘live’ basis. Similarly, the fact was that the vast majority of visitors to the site were adults – therefore I decided that such an environment wasn’t suitable for children.

To this day, I have kept the ‘family friendly’ ethos of not permitting sexual content. Just because a site is for adults, it doesn’t mean it needs to be full of sex and vulgarity. This has allowed the site to develop a far more mature identity, which both I and my members are more comfortable with.

Consider your potential audience and your site’s content

I will soon be launching a brand new online community. Once again, I will have an age restriction for new members although I may be a little more flexible this time around due to the content I will be offering and the fact that there will not be a live chat room (at least initially). If I were to lower the age though, it would only be to 16. I personally feel it is inappropriate to allow users under this age to mix with adults in an online environment.

The best way to decide whether to allow children to register for your online community is to put yourself in the shoes of a parent. Would you want a ten year old child of yours to register and get involved in your community? Would you want a thirteen year old child of yours to register? How about a sixteen year old? If you think honestly, morally and maturely on the basis of your existing member demographics, the subject matter of your community and the amount of moderation you can offer, you should be able to make the right decision.

Your thoughts

Do you allow children to use your online community? Do you have any hesitation or concerns about children and adults sharing the same online space? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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{ 66 comments }

Patrick O'Keefe May 30, 2008 at 11:39 pm

The article has some good points. :) I agree that subject matter manners, as does how you manage your forums. If it’s illegal for someone under 18 to do something – and your forum is about that something – it’s reckless and irresponsible to allow people under 18 to engage in it. If your community is focused on a certain age group exclusively, it may be similarly inappropriate. I also think that 12 and under is very different from 13 through 17.

People under 18 are welcome on my forums. Some of my best staff members have been under 18 and I was 16 when I launched my three most popular forums – KarateForums.com, phpBBHacks.com and SportsForums.net. If kids were not allowed to mix with adults, I don’t think I would be talking to you today. I might not be in community management right now and I certainly wouldn’t be as experienced as I am. This unique experience has given me a certain perspective.

I disagree with the thought that if the vast majority of people are 18 and older, that people that are 17 and younger will not add value. I don’t think that’s fair. When it comes to adding value, speaking generally, age doesn’t tend to be a deciding factor. Some of the biggest slimeballs I’ve had to deal with were grown men and women – and some of the greatest people I’ve met were young men and women. Conversely, I’ve met young people that were jerks and adults that were awesome. So, in all, I don’t like to give people unneccessary credit or discredit, personality wise, simply based on age. I remember when a man, probably in his late 20s or 30s, said to me “Why should I respect you? I’m older than you.” That conversation has stuck with me, over the years, and crystalized how, for me, I wanted to live my life.

My memberbase, my staff has included a myriad of people from many different walks of life. Different ages, races, genders, nationalities and so on. And it’s worked really well for me.

Thanks,

Patrick

Smiley May 31, 2008 at 12:10 am

Adults should NOT mix with children. It is NOT okay for an under 18 to mix with over 18s when it comes to a community. As an owner, we have a responsibility to be moral.

I find adults who wish to mix with children VERY suspicious, and they certainly aren’t the type of adults I want in my site, that’s for sure.

I’ve been thinking lately of creating a teen community, to give them somewhere safe and friendly to chat, just like I have done for the adults. I will keep them separate, on separate domains.

My staff on that site will need to be adults (so they’re responsible) and will all need to provide a police disclosure to prove they aren’t paedophiles, and again I’d use my snail-mail method.

I take online safety seriously. Teenagers don’t really have anywhere safe to chat these days. Every site they go in there’s some dirty old paedophile trying to chat them up… mainly because of that site’s owners lack of morals and extreme lack of ethics.

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 31, 2008 at 3:16 am

Patrick – Thanks for your comment. You’re right – members under the age of 18 can add value to a community, and age isn’t necessarily a determinant of an individual’s maturity. I do think that overall, though (particularly when a community is dominated by adults), they are unable to provide as much value as adult members of a community.

When a community is dominated by adults I believe that it isn’t always an appropriate environment for children. Of course, this depends greatly on the subject matter and personality of the community as I mentioned in my article.

Additionally, I think that if a community is specifically targeting users under the age of 18 it needs to offer a good level of moderation and protection to these users who are often more vulnerable.

I don’t think I would ever take on a moderator who is under the age of 18. I agree that some children do show great maturity for their age, but giving additional responsibilities to children is something I personally wouldn’t be comfortable doing.

At the end of the day, I think it boils down to personal judgement. If community managers and developers feel it is acceptable for their particular community to target certain age groups, that’s fine. This article wasn’t designed to preach – it was merely written as a prompt for deeper thinking and reflection.

Smiley – As mentioned by Patrick, I think that children and adults can mix but it all depends on the environment that these interactions take place within. Just because younger people join an online community, it doesn’t mean that suspicions should be cast upon the adult members – it is unlikely they joined in the hope that younger members may join at some stage in the future!

Developing a teen community is something I personally wouldn’t do, but again that doesn’t mean that it is wrong, or that I have a problem with online communities for children. Good luck if you decide to go ahead with your plans.

Nicole Price May 31, 2008 at 6:20 am

Teenagers can still be considered for joining communities. Anyone younger is better kept away unless it is specifically for kids. The theme of the site should be the most important deciding factor.

Amish Made Furniture May 31, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Patrick O’Keefe, the Guru has spoken and there is little that I would like to add except as a parent. I would prefer my children to join forums where their own age group is in the majority .

Michelle from the Coulee Region June 1, 2008 at 5:49 am

I have a checkbox on my site that says you need to be at least 13 so I don’t need to deal with COPPA ( http://www.coppa.org/ ) but I don’t have any problem with 13-17 year olds joining. I don’t see anything wrong with mixing teens and adults on a site as long as the content of the site isn’t anything a teen shouldn’t be involved with. We have a bunch of teens in the Drupal community, many brought there by Google’s GHOP program and they do just fine. We have a 12 year old that can program circles around me and you’d never guess his age by chatting with him.

“I find adults who wish to mix with children VERY suspicious” That’s a very cynical view. Sure, there’s pervs out there, but there’s also plenty of perfectly normal people who enjoy chatting with teens. Teens can offer a fresh perspective on things. I think it’s wonderful being in a community where teens and adults work together and people generally don’t think anything of it.

Michelle

Smiley June 1, 2008 at 8:37 am

Thanks for your comments, Martin.

Still, as a moral person, I will never mix children with adults. There’s too many perverts around.

13 year old children should not be chatting with adults. It’s sick.

This is why I’m wanting to create a teen community. I can’t think of ONE site where teens are safe chatting. Not one. Teen sites are all full of adults looking for children. The internet is a sick and dangerous place at times, and it needn’t be like that.

Teenagers need somewhere to chat, that is heavily moderated, with the correct marketing the site could become very popular. Hire ordinary parents as moderators, using the snail mail method for extra safety.. ADVERTISE this fact on the site.. make sure it’s moderated 24/7

As soon as my revenue has stabilized after switching advertising companies I’ll setup the site and get a few trustworthy adults from FC to help me out, pay for them to provide a disclosure etc.

Because I want teens to have somewhere safe. I’m a very caring and ethical person, for the first time in my life I’m doing something good, females have somewhere safe to go, non-pervy males have somewhere to go without having to worry about being tarred etc… I want to do the same for teenagers. (I’m thinking of going back to Paid On Results, actually… since I switched to EasyDate.biz, I’m not earning anything? All the leads keep getting declined.. I think they’re having me on.. they’re getting leads but not having to pay out.. I’ve had £13 declined today without any explanation?)

Before finding my way to your site, as you know I worked for Paltalk as Palsupport.. the reason why I threw a tantrum there and got myself sacked/banned is because they changed their policies.. Paltalk administrators were no longer allowed to moderate the teen rooms. Rooms became self-adminned, that is, users created a room and they adminned it themselves.. I disagreed with this policy, being next in-line for a co-admin position I thought my opinion would be valued, I argued that teenagers (ironically being a teenager myself) aren’t responsible enough to administer themselves, and don’t have sufficient power to keep out paedophiles, perverts and the likes.. they completely ignored me so, I did my usual going-crazy thing I do when I’m pissed about something..

But, I’m just passionate about things like that… I’ve always been anti-pervert, when I worked for you 90% of my bannings were perverts, I used to use two usernames, one female, one Guide, and I’d just sit in the forum list (not baiting), and just wait for perverts to PM me and then bam.. eject.

I do the same in FC now, and I’ve trained my management to do it, too (not the support, though, I don’t want rogues and cowboys).. that’s what I love doing, that’s why I created it. I wanted to do something good, I wanted to get back to what I liked doing.. rather than being silly winding up etc.

Anyway, I doubt it’ll happen, ChatBlazer is upgrading their chat software next week which will iron out all the bugs currently present. I need £220 per month revenue so I can switch the audio & video rooms on. I still need the £250 spare to setup a profiles section using that script you showed me.. so, still a long way from starting other projects yet!

Smiley June 1, 2008 at 8:37 am

Oops, sorry for the big essay again. I’ll try to cut down in future. I get a bit blabber-fingered after being up all night!

Bat June 1, 2008 at 3:07 pm

As the mother of children, I have to say that I would NEVER allow any of my children to use an internet chat room. Tommy you say your thinking about having a teen community? The thing is, how do you KNOW that the users are in fact teens? You simply have no way of knowing. For that reason there is no way in hell I will allow my 13 year old daughter to use an internet chat room.

As staff on Just Chat I,ve seen enough for me to understand how pedophiles work. I,ve signed in as an underage user and straight away I,ve been bombarded with pc,s from men asking me the most foul things. Chat rooms should be strictly for over 18,s only and if myself or any other staff member, sees anyone who is underage, ie signed in as “kate14″ or who APPEARS to be underage, then they are ejected.

Children should definately NOT be allowed in chat rooms, they are far too precious, and it,s my duty as a parent, to protect my children as much as I can.

I appreciate the measures you say your going to take Tommy if you do start up a teen room, and thats admirable of you, but I,m afraid my daughter won,t be using it. You just have no way of knowing if the user who says they are a girl aged 15 isn,t actually some dirty 50 year old raincoat wearing pervert .

Hiring parents as moderators is a good idea in theory, but I don,t beleive, (unless all your staff are insomiacs) that you can possibly moderate any site 24 hours a day. There is no way I,m sitting in Forum One at 3 am!! (sorry Martin lol) Much as I love my job, that,s just tooo much.

Before it folded, UK Chat used to have teen rooms and one thing they did was disable private messaging and shut the room after 11 pm at night. This was all very well and good, BUT, as it was IRC, you could go and create your own chat room and pc there, or simply move to another room. So what good was it? PLUS, you could right click on a users name and view their IP information!!

Simon Brown June 1, 2008 at 8:43 pm

“but I don,t beleive, (unless all your staff are insomiacs) that you can possibly moderate any site 24 hours a day. There is no way I,m sitting in Forum One at 3 am!! (sorry Martin lol) Much as I love my job, that,s just tooo much.”

You are forgetting that if you hire moderators from many countries you can fully cover a day.

Bat June 1, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Yes Simon you can indeed, but even then you cannot guarantee that your site will be moderated 24 hours a day can you? In order to guarantee that, we would have to hire enough staff to do a change over every 2 hours, in ALL 3 forums every day!! Mind you that would be nice, *hint*. ;) ;) ;) ;)

Chris June 1, 2008 at 10:38 pm

“13 year old children should not be chatting with adults. Itís sick.”

What on earth is sick about it? As a child form the age of 9/10 on, I regularly engaged in stimulating, intellectual conversations with adults on a very regular basis.

This phenomenon of disallowing children and adults to interact socially is VERY new and has only reared it’s ugly head in the last 40 years or so.

Allowing children to interact socially with adults without undue hindrance is very important to their development… restricting such interaction is one of the many reasons you’ll find so many 20-somethings acting as if they are 12. Had they had the opportunity to be involved and engaged at an adult level, they might have matured.

Bat June 2, 2008 at 7:18 am

Yes Chris maybe you did, but I presume that was in the “real” world. We are talking about internet chat rooms, where, unless you know the person you are chatting to personally, you can never be 100% sure they are who they say they are.

Children interact with adults every day, at school for example, but chat rooms are a whole different kettle of fish. I think what Tommy is saying is sick, is the fact that SOME adults, will go to internet chat rooms for the sole purpose of finding children, thats the sick thing. Hence the reason that, IMO, chat rooms should only ever be for over 18,s.

Mr Woc June 2, 2008 at 10:32 am

Hi there

I dont think people under the age of 18 should be allowed on chat rooms or online communities, you only have to look at sites like faceparty and some v bad chat rooms that dont even deserve a mention to realise how bad some sites are.

Some sites should be closed down as they dont care at all, allowing people to do more or less what they like.

Its a shame as im sure most people under the age of 18 have something to offer and would be safe, for most chat room or online community owners its just too much of a risk having these people on our sites.

Woc

Chris June 2, 2008 at 11:16 am

So, what you are saying is any one under 18 isn’t intelligent enough to not to be beguiled by some perv? Most people aren’t up to anything nefarious online. Some adults go to the playground too, the park, teach in our kids schools… should we stick them in a box until that magical number that is 18?

Oh, no you say, it’s because they ‘aren’t monitored online’. True enough, and that’s what parents are for, to raise responsible, intelligent, and self aware children. If you have a child who you think won’t leave/ignore a perv online you shouldn’t be leaving them on the internet alone anyway – a parental issue, not a content creator/provider issue.

It’s no different than teaching a kid not to talk to strangers on the street, except that they are at home in absolutely no danger where safety from anything is one mouse click away – are you raising your (hypothetical) kids to know that? If not, then I see why you are scared.

I have a son and while he is not yet old enough to type much less surf unattended, I’ll have no qualms about allowing him to do so.

And for your question, no, I was posting on BBS and some of the earliest chat rooms. I remember the first time I encountered an ‘internet creep’ and as I recall the other kids, all probably 11-14 or so and I all baited him along and then hacked his prodigy account.

My point is, kids aren’t helpless, and not everything that happens to them makes them a victim, and requires shutting them up in a box. If you keep them in a cozy little boxy until that magic 18, you are doing them a far bigger disservice, and on a very grand scale, then allowing them an informed exploration of the world around them. Bad things happen to good people, always has always will. Teach a man to fish and all that drivel :)

You can never be 100% certain about anything.

Amish Made Furniture June 2, 2008 at 11:47 am

Chris, you are lucky you are blessed with a son. If you hear some of the real life stories that I can relate about teen aged girls having been misled via chatrooms, you will be shocked. You as a parent of course have every right to bring up your child as you wish. I would expect my wish to bring up mine, my way also to be accepted as such. I personally would rather play it safe than be sorry later. May I refer you to this link?

Amish Made Furniture June 2, 2008 at 11:54 am

Patrick, if you are the same Patrick who wrote the book, “Managing Online Forums”, I am not surprised at your approach to this topic. Your case is an exceptional one. If you practice what you preach, your forum is a place where I would send my daughter to without worrying. Otherwise, I would refer you too to the link that I have given on my comment to Chris.

Bat June 2, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Chris perverts are very very clever. They sometimes take up to a couple of years, “grooming” children online, to gradually gain their trust. I,ll say it again: you have NO way of knowing if the person who says they are a teen, ie 14 or 15, IS in fact that. For that reason, I will NEVER allow my daughter to use a chat room. It isn,t a question of children not being intelligent enough, it,s a question of the perverts being very clever and very determined. They go to extraordinary lengths to groom children for their sick needs. Again, you cannot, IMO, moderate chat rooms 24 hours a day. Anyone on JC who uses the rooms and is or appears to be under 18 is ejected. Best to be safe than sorry.

Simon Brown June 2, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Is there a modification for the software available that automatically disables the chatroom unless a moderator is online?

Bat June 2, 2008 at 5:10 pm

Simon if we ever did have such a modification for the software, we,d never have any users chatting!! We just cannot provide 24 hour moderating on JC and we have never claimed too.

Smiley June 2, 2008 at 6:28 pm

I can see private messages, Bat. They all slip up.

Bat June 2, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Yes I know Tommy, but I still firmly beleive that chat rooms are not for children. It really is better to be safe than sorry. My children are far too precious. The thought of my daughter being pm,d by some pervert makes me feel ill. Hence the reason she doesn,t and isn,t allowed to, use chat rooms. Mind you, having said all that, she,s never asked too. She knows what I do most days in JC, but that is as far as it goes right now.

PC Sport Live June 2, 2008 at 10:01 pm

The majority of forums I join tend to be game forums. Often the age limit is set to anyone above the age of 13. I still feel this is a very tender age and much of the moderation is done with adults in mind. Truely if sites which to allow teens they should have the ability to cover all aspects of their forum/site to ensure no wrong doing is taking place.

Smiley June 2, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Children are going to use chat rooms, Bat.

So why not provide them with somewhere safe, rather than allowing them to use one of the ones that are already out there that aren’t moderated correctly?

Myfinancebutler June 2, 2008 at 11:59 pm

I don’t think children should be banned from online communities all together – but I do believe it should be strictly moderated – the internet is crawling with dangerous predators, and it could endanger the welfare if your child. I believe it should be strictly moderated, and that the parents themselves should monitor the online activities of their children and even limit it. I grew up without the internet, and I think it is healthier for children in this generation to spend time doing healthier activities, like sports, arts and crafts, and meeting and playing with other children.

Chat June 3, 2008 at 12:55 am

Its funny you wrote this article martin at this time because about a month ago I started building an online community just for teenagers. So far on my online community I have allowed teenagers to chat in a designated “teen chat room” much like you;but recently the community has become more popular upon adults who don’t know what a clean chat site means. Before I really had no problems with mature content being uploaded. As i don’t think in anyway people under 18 years old should be stumbling upon mature content I will be making my current community an adult only community and will be building up a teen only community mostly for Canadian teens.

I think children and adults can share online space if the space is heavily moderated but at this time i cannot dedicate 24hrs of my time just for screening.

I have visited some of the “older chat sites”/”authority chat sites” and became pretty disgusted with the conversation going on between adults / teens not to mention on some of the older chat software it seems chat room moderation is non existent.

Cody

Brett June 3, 2008 at 6:56 am

If it’s made for kids and it has a good theme and a reason for them to be there then I’m ok with it, but that doesn’t alleviate parents of their responsibility to monitor their kids activity on the internet. Great article!

Bat June 3, 2008 at 7:01 am

Tommy I hear what your saying and I agree that yes, somewhere safe for kids to chat on line is a good thing, BUT we keep coming back to my point. How do you KNOW that the “teens” in the room really are? Sure some might well be, but the harsh fact of life is, that perverts will target a teen room with the sole purpose of befriending a child and grooming them. Teen chat rooms are a perverts paradise. You can moderate these rooms 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, but you have no way of knowing if they really are kids. Children should not be allowed to use chat rooms, they should be for over 18,s only.

Smiley June 4, 2008 at 2:57 am

I’ve been using chat rooms since the age of 12. I think there’s too much hype about perverts and such. As long as you provide a safe environment and provide plenty of safety advice.

Bat June 4, 2008 at 7:53 am

Yep you can provide all the saftey advice in the world, but the fact remains that these perverts arn’t stupid, sick yes, stupid no.

We,ll keep going round in circles on this one I,m afraid. You can moderate a teen room with parents who you know and trust, great idea. You can do police checks on them to make sure they havn,t got a “dubious” past, even beter idea, BUT, you can never be sure that the girl or boy sitting there declaring that they are only 13 or 14 years old is in fact that.

You can read pm,s wonderful idea, but again the perverts arn,t stupid. They arn,t going to risk saying anything either in the room or in pm that,s going to incriminate them. The,ll keep up the lighthearted chat for as long as it takes, 6 months to a year, to 2 years, gradually winning the “real” teens trust and friendship, then when they think the time is right, they,ll arrange a meet. They,ll convince the child not to tell their parents because it,s all part of the fun.

By this time the child is so taken with their new pal they,ll more than likely go along with it.

Chat rooms should be strictly for over 18,s and thats that. You and I will have to agree to disagree on this one Tommy. ;)

Eva White June 4, 2008 at 9:04 am

Personally I think that if you are running a community for Adults, Children should not be allowed to join in. Its not possible to regulate every single member in any community very rigidly, this can lead to trouble potentially. So its better for Kids to have their own networks and adults to have their own.

Even you wouldn’t want to sit at the movies with a 6 year old, would you???

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 4, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Nicole – Even when we say ‘teenagers’ should be allowed to join online communities, there is still a wide age range involved. I think you are right that a lot of it should depend on the subject matter and theme of the community.

Ramana – Yes, I agree with you. I wouldn’t feel comfortable if a child of mine was a member of an online community where the majority of members were adults. Then again, it all depends on how old the ‘child’ is!

Michelle – Thanks for your contribution. Yes, I agree that some children are extremely mature and you would never be able to guess their real age. You also make a good point that they can add real diversity and fresh direction for an online community.

Smiley – I don’t necessarily agree that adults talking to 13 year olds is ‘sick’; it all depends on the subject matter of the conversation. After all, is an adult who talks to a child whilst picking up his son from school ‘sick’? It’s a bad idea to ring-fence people with such generalisations.

Bat – You make a very good point. The fact is, it’s pretty much impossible to know the real ages of individual users of an online community; much of it is based on trust. Even if you decide not to allow children to join your community, it is a challenging rule to enforce.

Simon – Yes, having moderators from all over the world can help address the issue of 24 hour coverage but you would still need a small army of them to provide 24/7 cover. It is also important to ensure you are only taking on moderators based on their skills, passion and maturity as opposed to the timezone they are situated in.

Chris – Yes, it is important for children to be able to interact with adults, but can this be challenged when it comes to an online environment where there is much less supervision? I believe there are more risks facing children in an online environment simply because they are often allowed access without parental supervision. This is where the potential dangers lie.

I completely agree with your statement, ‘You can never be 100% certain about anything’. I think you are right when you say children should be able to interact with people of all ages online, however I do think they need to be supervised up to a certain age and that even as they get older parents need to continue taking an active interest in the surfing habits of their children.

Woc – Some online communities are wholly irresponsible when it comes to their safety obligations. In my opinion, if a community has absolutely no moderation or safety features, children should not be allowed to join.

PC Sport – I agree; community managers have a moral duty to make their communities as safe as possible, regardless of members’ ages.

Butler – I agree with everything you say, although I think Internet use is just as healthy as offline activities; it’s all about enjoying everything in moderation!

Cody – It’s important not to tar all online communities that allow adults and children to mix with the same brush. However, some do allow some outrageous activity to take place on their sites which is wholly unacceptable. Like Smiley, I think you will face a number of challenges in trying to develop a ‘teen only’ community – for example, how can you prove the age of each member?

Brett – Yes, parents still have a duty to supervise their children online just as they should be doing offline. Online communities dedicated to children can be great as long as they are heavily moderated and include a number of safeguards.

Eva – Sit at the movies with a 6 year old? I guess it would depend on the film I was watching – just as whether children should be allowed to join an online community depends on the subject matter of the community.

Smiley June 4, 2008 at 7:36 pm

My my, popular topic this, huh, Martin?

Chat June 5, 2008 at 12:38 am

Martin

the only thing that can be done with a teen only community is to allow PG content as opposed to say R. If you got adult members posting about adult related topics I don’t know if teenagers should be reading and participating. Its not so much about perverts as I believe no one should meet each other offline, especially teens. On a teen community any adult orientated topics could be closed right away.

But what am I saying…. I was the manager of an adult related group on msn when i was 17…. lol

Shantanu Bala June 5, 2008 at 1:14 am

You can always get moderators to make sure that a certain section of a website is available for kids’ use, and whether you like it or not kids can easily just make their birth year a few years earlier on a web form with nobody noticing. CAN kids get into adult sites? Yes, whether you like it or not, you may get kids registered if they just pretend that they are over 18.

Richard June 6, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Great points posted here. I say 18 and up. Extra security and moderation for the teen communities that get outta control with the group schemes and plots :/

Top Rated June 6, 2008 at 8:30 pm

I have a 14 year old teenage daughter, who just this year, became very active in chatting online. Ultimately, I think it all comes down to parental involvement. Sure, you can’t be over their shoulder every minute there online, but try talking to them afterwards, and enforcing the rules you set. The online digital world is here to stay, and it’ll be a big part of our children’s future. Blocking them from its only a temporary measure, and one that puts that at a disadvantage down the road. Just be involved in their life.

andy June 7, 2008 at 5:24 pm

I am not a parent but my opinion would be no. I think youger generations don’t really care about privacy as much as older generations. They post way to much information without thinking how it can affect them. If someone wants to hurt them it just makes it easier. I would watch my children and ask that they not join online communities

shawna June 9, 2008 at 6:54 pm

The best advice I’ve heard is to simply put your computer in the busiest room of the house. If your kids are wanting to log onto something that’s not appropriate than they more than likely won’t do it with mom or dad passing by.

Smiley June 10, 2008 at 2:00 pm

You know, I kinda stubbed my toe in this topic. I was ranting about how adults and children shouldn’t mix, but while running FC, I remembered the old landlord of my local when I was just a teen.

Being from a village, of course the landlord knew I wasn’t 18. I didn’t even look 16, nevermind 18, but he still let me drink there.

His reasoning?

“Better you drinking here, sat in the corner where I can keep an eye on you and and know that you’re safe, rather than turn you away and live with the guilt if something happens to you sat out on the streets drinking”

–Meaning that if we wanna drink, we’ll drink, so he might as well make sure we’re doing it safely.

I, unknowingly, have applied that on FC, and I know I shouldn’t. If I know someone is under 18, I don’t ban them, I PM them, tell them to keep their age secret, never to accept private messages unless it’s a staff member and only stay in the official rooms where I can keep an eye on them.

They’re usually simply mature teenagers who don’t want all the ASL ASL ASL CAM CAM SEX SEX stuff you get in every other site and just want a laugh, a banter and every so often a real, mature conversation. So I let them as long as they abide by the rules I give them.

It’s either that, or turn them away and have them go into another site where I’ll have to live with the guilt of them being traumatized by sicko’s.

qaswer June 10, 2008 at 7:02 pm

On another blog I was just reading something about a 13 year girl who commit suicide due to depression and tension. It happened due to a woman from myspace who lived in the neighborhood.
IMO Kids should not be allowed to join adult online communities.

Peter June 11, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Well that is true! but the best advice is to put your computer on the place or room that you can see your kids whenever they log onto something. What I mean is the busiest place.

Nicole Price June 12, 2008 at 6:02 am

What an interesting topic you picked Martin and what a flood of opinions too! I tend to agree with smiley, if you have forum for children, there is something uncomfortable making about permitting adults to interact on the same level. I mean it is questionable why an adult would want to be part of a children’s forum.

Bat June 12, 2008 at 6:50 pm

QUOTE:I, unknowingly, have applied that on FC, and I know I shouldnít. If I know someone is under 18, I donít ban them, I PM them, tell them to keep their age secret, never to accept private messages unless itís a staff member and only stay in the official rooms where I can keep an eye on them.”UNQUOTE:

Tommy I cannot beleive you do this. Just suppose a staff member isn’t around when this child enters the room? Are your rooms moderated 24 hours a day? I doubt it. You have a duty, as an adult to keep children out of your chat rooms. You simply cannot be sure that they will always take your advice. Kids think the internet is fun. They don,t think they way we do. They can be easily led. You can’t be there all the time and neither can your staff, or do you claim to moderate FC 24 hours a day? I,m sorry Tommy but I find this highly disturbing that you allow underage users to stay in your chat rooms. It states in YOUR code of conduct on your site that you must be over 18 to use the site, so your breaking your own rules!
http://www.friendlychatrooms.co.uk/codeofconduct.html

Prescription Drug Addictions June 18, 2008 at 9:13 am

I believe that children shouldn’t be banned from online communities all together. Not all online communities are created equal. They should be strictly supervised though, and be talked to very carefully about the possible dangers of the internet.

Monavie June 18, 2008 at 10:09 pm

You made a lot of good points here. I think it depends on the content of the site mostly. Its a risky thing allowing children on a site, you never know what is going to happen. For example, that young girl on Myspace that committed suicide after a neighbor said some nasty things to her using Myspace. I think parents need to be more involved with what sites they let their children on, because like you said, every child is different.

College Graduation Gifts June 19, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Online communities are there for a purpose and a big majority of them have good intentions and some with topics and discussions highly educational for the children.

However, the quality of online communities would highly depend on the community members themselves…from the credentials of the members to the topics being discussed by them online.

In essence, it is really hard to prevent children from joining online communities. It’s very easy to lie their age.

As always, the most effective tool is constant parental supervision.

Matt (Project Management) June 23, 2008 at 10:48 am

My cant wrap the world in cotton wool. There should plenty of opportunities for children to learn online.

I think the best tool to police this situation is education. Children should be taught from an early age the dangers of the Internet.

Rugsdoneright June 25, 2008 at 11:48 pm

I think that what we need is not to ban children from these sites, but have tighter regulating procedures, so that minors won’t be able to lie about their age and easily enter sites that would be harmful to them.

UptakeInOH June 26, 2008 at 5:42 am

Yet another great topic! I’m so happy to have discovered this blog.

Some sites consider 13 to be old enough to register, but I’m not sure I think that’s old enough. There are just so many predators out there today and they are more creative than ever. I look at it this way….would I send my 13 year-old to a club with largely 18-40 year-old attending? No, I wouldn’t. It’s easy to cite the obvious differences in going to a club and surfing the net online at home, but certainly the threat exists in the latter scenario as well. Some of the things we are seeing take place on YouTube and MySpace recently make this very clear.

Contemporary Furniture June 26, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Would I allow children to join an online community? Well, it depends on what kind of community is it? There should be a category for every online community; one for adults and the other for kids. Children under the age of 18 should never be allowed to join an adult online community because it might contain contents that may not be suitable for their age. Writers should be very observant with their community members.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 10:48 pm

Cody – I think youíre right in that if you have a community that attracts younger members, you need to be even more aware of the type of content that is being posted in your community. You need to remember though, that not all communication takes place in public Ė think of private messaging features; unsavoury content could be shared in private without you even knowing about it.

Shantanu – Yes, children can still access sites by lying about their age. Thatís why it is important to be aware that even if you have adult content on your site, it could still be accessed by children. This is why I donít allow such content on any of my websites.

Richard – Communities can benefit from having younger members, but as you say there does need to be extra security and moderation on such sites.

Top – You raise a good point; parents do need to take an active role in their childrenís online experience. Sure, we canít watch over them all of the time, but parents need to take an active interest in the surfing habits of their children.

Andy – Yes, I think many children post excessive information about themselves Ė particularly on social networks. This is why it is important for children to be better educated about the potential dangers that exist online, as well as the benefits the Internet offers.

Shawna – I completely agree. Along with education, having the computer in a shared environment combined with parents taking an active interest in their childís online habits is the best way of protecting children online.

Smiley – I think you need to be very careful with your current policy; not only are you running a community for adults, but you are aware of the fact there are children on your site and are telling them they are welcome as long as they keep their age secret. Not only are you potentially putting these users at risk, you have the potential for a public relations disaster should anything untoward happen.

Qaswer – I donít think online communities can encourage people tocommit suicide; they need to be pretty ill to do such a thing in the first place. Indeed, online communities can offer comfort and help to such vulnerable members of society.

Peter – Yes, I think thatís a good idea, too.

Nicole – Itís a very interesting topic, and raises a lot of emotions as demonstrated by the number of comments this article has received. I agree with you; online communities aimed at adults are not places that should be welcoming children.

Bat – Yup, I agree with you!

Prescription – Youíre right; not all communities are the same, and it is unfair to judge them as such. Some communities focussed specifically at children, with blanket moderation can be extremely beneficial to children. My concerns are raised when younger children start to mix with adults in a community that is not geared towards them, and has minimal moderation.

Monavie – Yes, I think a lot of it comes down to the type of content on the site and the subject of the online community. Parents need to be involved in their childrenís surfing habits regardless of the types of sites they use.

College – It is very easy for children to lie about their age and join online communities regardless of that siteís policies. This is why I donít allow any sexual content on my sites, and provide as much moderation as possible.

Matt – I agree that education is very important. You also make a good point that children shouldnít always be wrapped up in cotton wool. Both children and communities can benefit from the engagement of younger members.

Rugs – Unfortunately, due to the nature of the Internet I canít see there being a standardised form of identity for individual users for a long time yet (if ever).

Uptake – Thanks for your kind comment. I agree with you Ė I wouldnít allow a 13 year old to register at Just Chat. I am more comfortable with users aged 16 and over becoming members, though. I guess we all have a different perception of how old a Ďchildí is.

Contemporary – Yes, the type of community should determine the age policy for that site. It is worth bearing in mind that not everyone under the age of 18 is a vulnerable child unable to converse with adults, though.

TigerTom June 27, 2008 at 12:44 am

The innocence of children should be protected as long as possible. They’re trying to give kids sex-ed in the UK, and they’re still having illegitimate children like hot cross buns here.

The internet brings out the worst in people. There are many sick people on it.

Forbid your kids from watching TV as well, and watch as they overtake their schoolmates academically.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 17, 2008 at 12:07 am

TigerTom – Education can only go so far; as well as education, parents need to take an active interest in what their children are doing online. I am not sure that all TV is bad – I learn a great deal from watching the news and watching documentaries!

D August 9, 2008 at 3:21 am

I completely disagree.
I am less than 15 years old (I would not like to specify my exact age). I am a programmer and have been actively participating in a programming community for 2 and a half years. I’ve gone to several conferences so far and I’ve given talks at them.
I think it’s un-fair to ban users of a certain age or below. That’s called Ageism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ageism) and Adultism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adultism). I really hate it so much that often times I am simply forced to lie about my age.

MOin September 14, 2008 at 9:29 pm

i they should be allowed but ofcourse safe communities only there is a lot of fuss on the web these day so be careful, and its important for them to interact with people at childhood the world is now running over the speed of 100km/h its really now hard to keep and maintain your speeed.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 6, 2008 at 8:35 pm

D – Thanks for sharing your point of view. You definitely put forward an interesting argument that has added to the debate.

MOin – You raise an interesting issue; how you you make an online community ‘safe’?

Smiley October 27, 2008 at 4:55 am

D – it is not ageism. Ageism is the hatred or the feeling of superiority over someone a different age to you.

I don’t allow children on my community because children should not be exposed to certain types of conversations that occur in adult communities.

Not only that, if a child ends up getting abducted or worse because they’ve been using my community, and a police enquiry shows that I was aware of the child’s age but allowed them to stay – how much trouble do you think I’d be in?

It’s about protection and safety – not feelings of superiority or hatred.

Bat October 27, 2008 at 8:42 am

So does that mean that you no longer allow underage users on your site Tommy?
Sorry to keep bringing this up but as the site owner, you really need to be clear about exactly who you do and don,t allow.

QUOTE: I, unknowingly, have applied that on FC, and I know I shouldn?t. If I know someone is under 18, I don?t ban them, I PM them, tell them to keep their age secret, never to accept private messages unless it?s a staff member and only stay in the official rooms where I can keep an eye on them. QUOTE.

And D banning children from using a chat site meant for adults only isn,t ageism atall. It,s up to the owner of each individual communtiy to decide wether or not to allow underage users. Martin has decided NOT to allow anyone who is, or appears to be, under the age of 18 on JustChat. The rules are there to protect vulnerable children D. Ageism or indeed discrimination, is nothing to do with it.

I went into the Chat forums yesterday as a 16 year old girl. Straight away I was bombarded with pm,s from much older men. One of them was 56!! He obviously wasn,t remotely bothered that at his age, he was 40 years older than me. He then went on to make lewid remarks about schoolgirls.

The rules are designed to protect you D, not discriminate against you because of your age.

Smiley October 27, 2008 at 7:16 pm

The site is grown, not that desperate for user numbers and we can’t be there to moderate 24/7.

Anyway, I was talking about such as 17 year olds. What’s a few days or weeks make a difference? No point in losing a potential reg over being pedantic.

FC is split into three room ratings. G rated – no swearing or sexual content allowed. R – swearing allowed, no sexual content. A – both allowed, the latter permitted in moderation of course.

Small site, G rated room, I don’t have a problem with a 16/7 year old keeping themself to themself and chatting in the room where we can keep an eye on ‘em.

But I’m afraid I don’t want 13 year olds plaguing the site.

You can’t just bomb people with PM’s on FC. A little popup comes up in the bottom right hand corner saying “Accept” and “Deny” – unless it’s a staff member then the window just pops right open. Nice little feature, pervs don’t really get very far. Since we made the site registration only, I haven’t had one e-mail about a pervert or so much as a troublemaker. The user numbers dropped a little, though, but are now back at average levels at peak time and I wish I made it registered users only much earlier, it has been a God send.

All the registration form is, is a username & password though. Nothing fancy or tiresome where you’re filling loads out. So it’s still easy to get in. Just type in a username & a password and boom, after that just click login.

But amazing how a simple feature deters perverts and troublemakers.

Sally May 4, 2009 at 10:54 pm

I would like to bring up another problem that is very far away from the “pervert” area. In the past I have belonged to many “paranormal” authors websites; where members can discuss the authors books and talk about the new book to be released, etc. Or just generally finding other fans of the author that you can talk to.
Some of the discussion around these books focus on very violent themes, hard-core sex, bondage, etc. Even though these discussion threads have always been moderated–it is incredible how far sometimes it is allowed to go. And I did realize that anyone over 13 was allowed to join, with parents permission or something like that–but didn’t pay all that much attention to it because I myself am an older adult and it wasn’t relevant to me.
But after a very long time in these online communities I started to realize something: a massive number of the members were teenagers, many of them 13, 14 or 15 and happy to create all the upheaval they could get away with and were the very worst gossips and manipulative members out of the whole board. I think the problem is they do NOT have the maturity and ‘life-experience” to be able to navigate calmly through these sites and I have no idea what they were doing there and ended up just wishing everyone under 18 would just LEAVE. I am sorry but honestly it is the truth. When I seek out these “author sites” I am expecting a community of adults. Because the subject matter alone should bring some pause. But alas–because the Author has so many fans of her books that are teenagers, she feels she has to let them in.
And this was my personal experience. I have no idea if any of them were ever ‘stalked’ for some bad purpose, but like I say–my focus is on the behavior of many of these teens and their negative impact on the adult members.

Tathar June 17, 2009 at 2:32 pm

“This is why Iím wanting to create a teen community. I canít think of ONE site where teens are safe chatting. Not one. Teen sites are all full of adults looking for children. The internet is a sick and dangerous place at times, and it neednít be like that. ”

The reason why teen communities aren’t safe from pedophiles is because pedophiles specifically seek teen communities to find victims. Once on a friend’s suggestion, I went on IRC with him to a teen chat room (specifically #teens on irc.icq.net) and lurked using the nickname “Olivia16″. Of course, I was not a 16-year-old girl named Olivia; in fact, everything I represented myself as was a complete fabrication.

Without posting a single message in the chat room, I received private messages from 8 different people, each asking for sexual favors. After some prodding for information, I found out that seven of them were pedophiles; only the eighth was really a teen. Deciding to have some fun, I obtained the pedophiles’ phone numbers and when asked for mine, I gave each of them another pedophile’s phone number. It didn’t take me much effort to get the real teen’s number, so I gave it to my friend. He then called it asking for the teen’s mother; needless to say he was in serious trouble.

The problem is that the mere existence of a teen community will encourage pedophiles to prey on the teens in the community. If I had another opportunity like the one above, I would have probably obtained the pedophiles’ local police numbers to give out instead of each others’ numbers. It wouldn’t have kept the teens completely safe, but getting pedophiles to call the police expecting sexual favors from minors would both be hilarious and karmic.

Irene Savoia June 22, 2009 at 11:06 pm

I will not let my children register as a member in my community if he is under 18.I think he is not mature enough to join in the discussion.Maybe the online community will not play as a guide to his life.

Mr Woc October 9, 2009 at 9:28 am

Hi guys

This is actually a very tricky subject, as personally my views have changed a little bit on this, after watchign a program about pedophiles on tv recently, I think it is on again this week some time about a police task force. Most of hte cases involved pedophiles using the internet fo find teens online, but they were in fact talking to an undercover police officers

I do think adults and teens can mix online, personally I wouldnt do it myself on any of my sites, but you cant stop all people under the age of 18 logging into the net. Organsing safe areas is also impossible as pedophiles just log in pretending to be teens.

The general consensus of the police is its down to the childrens parents, to monitor their childrens movments online, so they dont fall foul to pedophiles online.

Woc

David December 11, 2009 at 7:43 am

I think that child access to online communities needs to be very carefully managed by parents.

Obvoious controls are not having the PC in a bedroom but in an open area as well as communication with children about the risks and usual stuff about meeting strangers.

Christina March 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I think children/teens should be kept off most adult online communities. Once a teen turns 16, they are probably mature enough to interact with adults, but any younger doesn’t seem appropriate. With the amount of predators online, the parents should be managing their children’s Internet use.