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A Legal Age For Facebook? Parenting And The Rise Of Social Media

How long can you hold him?
How long can you hold him?
Massimo Russo

TURIN — In Brussels, it doesn't matter if your 8-year-olds have a smartphone in their pockets with more computing power than the Rosetta space probe. The European Union passed a regulation this month that raised the legal age for the use of social media to 16, requiring parental consent before teenagers can open Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and email accounts.

The Byzantine nature of Brussels, and the need to make every member-nation happy, means the new privacy reforms allow different countries to establish different domestic ages. Poland, for one, had pushed for an even higher legal age.

And yet, in establishing regulations that require explicit parental consent, the EU again shows just how far removed it is from the daily lives of its citizens: 70% of European 13-year-olds are already on Facebook. A recent poll revealed that the average age of people signing up for the first time is even lower, at 12. But when politicians think they can change the world with a flurry of new laws, nothing can stop them.

In an age where kids spend more time on the Internet than outside the home, the real question for families across the continent is how do we turn our children into good digital citizens.

Teenagers today exchange homework on Facebook messenger, organize their free time on WhatsApp, comment on photos and Christmas presents on Instagram and Pinterest, share on Snapchat and Tumblr, and challenge far-flung rival players across the globe on video game consoles. Don't recognize some of these strange names? Well, that's the point.

My father walked me to my first day of primary school, showing me which traffic light crossing I should take, so I would know how to go on my own from then on. Today, parents are struggling to do the equivalent for the digital lives of their children. They see dangers everywhere, in part because it can all seem so unfamiliar, and end up arbitrarily setting limits on their kids' use of a smartphone they may have just given them as a present.

False security

Too often, we end up forgetting a fundamental principle of parenting: giving responsibility is the best way to ensure maturity. We must follow our children along their digital paths. We need to sit by their side and discover how to change privacy settings and make sure that photos and comments remain accessible only to others their age. We should teach them to think twice before clicking "publish," and tell them that behind their screens lie real people that deserve just as much respect as they do in the real world.

The Internet is a web of webs, at once local and global, something which is not often understood by today's teens. They believe they are sheltered, only talking to their friends, mindless of the fact that their thoughts and posts will remain online forever.

Article 2 of the Italian Parliament's "Declaration of Internet Rights" states that "access to Internet is a fundamental personal right and required for full individual and societal development."

Danah Boyd, a renowned scholar of teenagers' use of social networks, disagrees with the EU's push for "a regime of norms that produce age-based restrictions." Instead, she says we must all take a step back and help our children become "responsible digital citizens," and begin a public conversation on how to parent in the digital age.

Looking for a good place to start? This evening, when your kids come home from school, try asking them: "How was Facebook today?"

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Don't Underestimate How Much More Putin Needs Xi Than Xi Needs Putin

Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow was a much-needed favor Vladimir Putin. But make no mistake, Beijing is there to serve Beijing — and holds virtually all the cards.

Photo of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin toasting with glasses of white wine

China's President Xi Jinping and Russia's President Vladimir Putin a state dinner hosted by the Russian president at the Faceted Chamber in the Moscow Kremlin.

Anna Zafesova


Chinese president Xi Jinping’s much-anticipated visit to Moscow begins with a diplomatic mystery. In the first minutes of formal greetings at the Kremlin, Xi congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Russia has achieved significant successes under your leadership. Next year you have elections coming up, and I am convinced that the Russian people will give you their support.”

The Russian president’s candidacy in 2024, officially, is one of the biggest mysteries in Russian politics, as Putin has not yet declared his intentions, even though it is extremely unlikely that he would voluntarily move out of the Kremlin, and even less so after amending the constitution in 2020 to allow himself to enjoy two more six-year terms.

Still, the fact that Russians learned that their president will run again from Xi is extraordinary enough that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters they had "misunderstood."

According to Moscow, the Chinese president said more generally that his Russian “friend” would continue to be supported by Russians next year.

It was hardly a gaffe — not at this level of politics, where every blink is weighed and measured. Maybe it was a translation error, or a courtesy Xi wanted to show Putin, in response to his host's compliments. Putin's welcome speech included the phrase "We envy you a little bit” (for China’s rapid pace of progress), which must have truly pained the Russian leader to say.

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