Does the Internet Need an Age Requirement?

Internet Age Restriction

Original Image from Flickr: Intel Free Press

Last month, The Verge posted an article about Europe’s talks of changing the age of Internet consent to 16, up three years from the current age of consent. In many ways, this shift can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, this has the potential to protect youths from the dangers that lurk in our online world. On the other other hand, this limits a young person’s abilities to find information, seeing as we are shifting to an all-digital world.

Now, some may be asking, why does this matter? The answer to that is simple: Our world borrows ideas from one another. If one country tries something, another country is right behind them trying it as well. Think about space travel: Russia got a man in space, so America quickly followed by getting a man on the moon.

What isn’t taken into account, however, is that not all ideas will translate effectively from one location to another. If you don’t believe that, there are probably a hundred Buzzfeed videos to support this: Australians Try Egg Nog, Americans Try Mincemeat Pie, Brits Try To Understand Iowan Politics, and so on. The conclusion is usually the same: Just because something works and/or makes sense in one place does not mean that it will elsewhere. By the same logic, changing the age of consent for Internet usage may not work the same for Europe as it would for America. What could we expect from a shift? How would this affect our daily lives and our businesses?

Internet Kids

Nowadays, children are introduced to computers, technology, and the Internet at young ages.
Flickr: Tim & Selena Middleton

Before looking into this, it’s important to note that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which has been in effect since 2000, is comparable to the legislation that exists in Europe. This act states that the age of consent, or the age in which a person can choose to share his or her personal information, is 13 years old. A person under the age of 13 is allowed to share personal information online with the consent of a parent or guardian.

By increasing the consenting age in America, we could be cutting down on some negative aspects of the Internet, like cyberbullying. A smallpool survey from February 2015 found that 34.4% of 11-15 year olds admitted to having been bullied online in their lifetime, and 15% of those kids had been cyberbullied in the last month. One of the increasing difficulties with online activity for people of all ages is a lack of ability to escape bullying. Before the Internet, if a person was being bullied, he or she could go home and feel safe from those attackers (in most cases). A middle school bully probably isn’t going to call the landline to bully a classmate when there is a chance someone could overhear him either in his own home or the victim’s home. With the advancements of cell phones and Internet, though, these bullies have the ability to continue harassing the victim after school and extracurriculars. Increasing the age to 16 cuts that entire statistic out, protecting our children from the harm of Internet cyberbullying during formative and fragile growing years.

Internet Bullying Statistics 2015

From Cyberbullying.org, 2015

There’s also the issue of maturity. As a tween and young teen, your brain is still developing, and you therefore do not have the full mental capacity of an adult when making decisions. This can be translated into what is posted online. A teen may see no harm in posting a racy selfie or posting their home address on the Internet. This teen is also not  understanding the repercussions of social media posts. He or she is also not fully grasping that anything posted can come back to haunt you in later years, or worse. This picture in question could land in the hands (so to speak) of a child predator, for example. If this posted address is obtained by the wrong person, your child and your whole family could be in danger. Likely, none of this was considered by the child posted it because they are still growing.

This change, though, this could limit businesses’ exposure to these younger audiences. For websites, clothing lines, devices, and more that target those in this age demographic, this age restriction can lower or completely knock out Internet marketing to this demographic. It’s important to keep in mind that targeting youth is not limited to big business. A local business can target youths when promoting a special or sale with their student ID or the community center publicizing a youth dance class or activity hour. For websites who target this age group, their entire futures could be in danger. These websites provide jobs and commerce in our economy, so if they are shut down, its workers are out of a job and there is less money going into our economy.

This can also mean a higher demand for increased marketing funds. Internet marketing can be very cost-effective. Investing $5 a day in promoting your business page on Facebook to 13-17 year olds within 10 miles of East Peoria would reach 550-1,400 people each day. That’s a little under half your target market that could so affordably be targeted, now gone. Here’s the proof:

Internet Marketing

This doesn’t mean that this age group can’t be reached, but the methods of doing so can be more costly. Now, imagine you are a local organization trying to inform young teens about an after-school program. There is probably a very small budget for marketing this program, and in this case, promoting social media could be a really effective option. However, if these youths aren’t online, this cheap option is no longer effective. Now, our community isn’t thriving as much as it could be because these fun and safe opportunities aren’t being heard about.

Kid on Internet

How would education be impacted if technology use was censored more than it already is?

This also brings up the question of Internet usage in the classroom. Virtually all schools integrate the Internet and computer technology into curriculum. How will these courses be impacted if this age range was changed? This can pose an especially tricky challenge for high school teachers, who may have classes with students of different ages. In these cases, either there would have to be certain exceptions that could allow younger students to access the Internet and share necessary information, or these amenities designed to improve the learning experience would be removed from the learning environment altogether.

In conclusion, putting more restrictions upon Internet usage for young adults has several positive and negative aspects. Before this could even be explored, though, there is much to be discussed, As The Verge article mentioned, a likely outcome of such legislation would be an additional checkbox when signing in, which may not affect businesses at all. If more is done to ensure that this legislation is closely followed, though, our economy, national and local, may feel the wrath of such changes.

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