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Principal threatens to report parents of underage Facebookers

A British school principal believes that parents whose children are too young to be on Facebook and other social-networking sites should be reported to child-protection services.

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Some might imagine that the mere existence of Facebook promotes a certain infantilism.

However, one school principal thinks that there are so many underage kids on Facebook and other social-networking sites that the parents need to face official consequences.

Paul Woodward, the principal of St. Whites School in the Forest of Dean, England, believes that 60 percent of the kids in his school use social networks. The trouble is that his school caters only to children between the ages of 4 and 11. Facebook's minimum age is 13.

So, as the Daily Mail relates it, he wants to report parents of these kids to child-protection services.

This might seem drastic to some, but Woodward seems convinced that social networking is exposing children to inappropriate material.

Earlier this year, a survey by a company called Minor Monitor suggested that 38 percent of kids on Facebook were under 13.

Facebook itself says that it dismisses 20,000 underage people daily.

Still, Woodward seems to have an interesting view of the law.

He told the Daily Mail that he speaks very strongly to parents of underage Facebookers. He said he tells them: "It's illegal for you to do this, you shouldn't be doing it for your child. You need to close down that account, or I might have to tell the safeguarding people that you are exposing your child to stuff that's not suitable."

Some might imagine that it is Woodward who is setting a bad example. It is not illegal for, say, a 12-year-old to be on Facebook. It is simply against Facebook's terms of service. One day, perhaps Facebook will write all the world's laws. It doesn't quite yet.

Moreover, he told the Mail that every time he discovers that one of his school's pupils has a Facebook account, he contacts the company to tell someone there. This, again, some might find interesting behavior.

It might well be that being on Facebook brings children into contact with difficult material. But so, surely, does simply being online. Woodward's problem, though, lies in grooming.

He told the Mail: "Children open themselves up to grooming, and then you don't know what sort of content they could get hold of."

I thought, initially, that by "grooming," he simply meant the influence of others. I am grateful to reader Mike Doyle for reminding me that this is the term used in certain parts for people who try to assume false identities to have sex with underage individuals.

While that is surely a danger throughout the Web, it is also surely parents' responsibility to monitor everything their children do. That is the life of a parent, for better or worse. If they allow their kids on Facebook, they have to know at all times what is going on there.

The biggest influence on children are parents. And, if mommy and daddy tend to post images and thoughts from vast parts of their lives on Facebook, might not those kids think this is perfectly normal behavior and want to emulate it?

In turn, might not parents imagine that it's more convenient for everyone if their little Jocasta is on Facebook so that they communicate with each other from, say, different rooms?

Perhaps the simplest thing would be just to have members from child-protection services friend all parents. That way, the path to social harmony and a filth-free environment would be smoothed beyond recognition.