Is it ever OK to skirt online rules?

The Dilemma

Born three years apart, siblings Tyson and Taylor are sometimes the best of friends and sometimes the worst of foes. Tyson, 15, can’t seem to decide whether to treat his 12-year-old sister as a sidekick or as a kid. And Taylor, truth be told, can’t seem to decide whether she wants to grow up.

During one of their friendly periods, they decide to sign up for a fantasy baseball league, a friendly competition where the loser cleans the winner’s room for a month. Baseball is their favorite sport, and they love the idea of seeing how Tyson’s Cubs stack up against Taylor’s White Sox. The only problem is the warning on the sign-up page: It says players must be at least 13 years old, but Taylor won’t be 13 until after the All-Star break.

The warning is the result of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which states websites can’t collect personal information from kids younger than 13 without a parent’s permission.

Mom and Dad are still at work, so Tyson says he can grant permission in their place. Besides, he says, it’s not like they’re spending money or accessing inappropriate content. Taylor is not sure Tyson is right, but she clicks the “Register Now” button, anyway.

For Discussion

Read the dilemma aloud with your youth, then discuss these questions:

  • Is Tyson right in saying he can act on behalf of his parents? If not, under what circumstances could he do so?
  • Does it make a difference that the siblings aren’t spending money? Why or why not?
  • Does it make a difference that the siblings aren’t accessing adult content? Why or why not?
  • Does it matter that Taylor is just a few months shy of her 13th birthday? Why or why not? What if she were 12 years and 11 months old? What if she were 12 years and 1 month old?
  • Would it make a difference if Taylor accessed the fantasy baseball site only in Tyson’s presence? Why or why not?

Now imagine that the siblings’ mom and dad find out about their fantasy baseball activity and object. Discuss these questions:

  • Are the parents right to be concerned? Why or why not?
  • Who, if anyone, should be punished? Explain your answer.
  • What can Tyson and Taylor do to rectify the situation? 

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