Good Digital Parenting
Blog | May 1, 2013

Age Appropriateness vs. Age Requirements: Helpful Tips

Program Director, Global Consumer Policy & Child Safety, AOL

Despite being around for some time now, the Internet has not developed a parent friendly standard of rating content the way movies (G, PG, PG-13) or television (TV Y, TV G, TV 14) or video games (E, T, M, A) or even music (Parental Advisory Notice) offers. How, then, do you determine if a site is appropriate for your child?

Until the Internet adopts a comprehensive system that parents can rely on, the best way for you to determine if you are comfortable allowing your child to visit a site is to visit the site yourself and take a look around. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Review the Terms of Service to understand what content is allowed on the site. Does it include prohibitions against sexually explicit content? If not, that content may be available.
  • If a site allows mature content, do they have protections in place minimizing the risk of exposure to minors? Protections would include tools such as a safe search filter and/or age gate to prevent access. 
  • If the option is available, do a search within the site using explicit terms or the acronym "NSFW," meaning not safe for work. What's being returned? Were you able to easily find a significant amount of mature content even though the site prohibits it? If so, this is a good indication that the site may not take steps to enforce their terms.
  • Is there report abuse button for consumers to alert the site of potential violations? Report a violation to test the effectiveness of the tool.

You may notice, as you review some of the Terms of Service pages, that many sites that kids typically frequent often provide language within their Terms of Service stating that a user “must be at least 13 years of age.” This can be misleading to parents as it insinuates that the content on the site is not appropriate for anyone under 13. In actuality, the mention of age in these instances is based more on Federal Regulations and less on the nature of the content within the site. Essentially, 13 is the age in which a minor can create an account or sign up with a website without the involvement of a parent. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires websites to get parental consent before collecting or sharing information from children who are under 13 years old.

Now that you are familiar with COPPA, take advantage of it! Your child’s personal information is valuable and you can do even more to protect it. Visit OnGuardOnline to get great information on options for maximizing COPPA’s protections.

Cover image credit: © Ayeletkeshet | Dreamstime.com