Would you let your kids lie about their age to get into an adult website? Probably not, but new research finds that a lot of parents are helping their kids get onto Facebook by lying about their ages.

Danah Boyd, the lead researcher on the project, suggests that the reason is an unintended consequence of the COPPA act: the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Because the act requires a parent’s permission to enter commercial sites that require registration, many companies including Facebook have opted to simply not allow children under the age of 13 to have an account, period. Because many parents would like their kids to have Facebook accounts, they’re lying about the kid’s age:

Many general-purpose communication platforms and social media sites restrict access to only those 13+ in response to a law meant to empower parents: the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This forces parents to make a difficult choice: help uphold the minimum age requirements and limit their children’s access to services that let kids connect with family and friends OR help their children lie about their age to circumvent the age-based restrictions and eschew the protections that COPPA is meant to provide.

Its probably easier to let grammy know what the kiddos are doing by letting them post to Facebook than sending an email because, well, who uses email any more? But allowing kids to post their goings-on online presents all manner of privacy concerns. Not to mention the notion that future employers of your 12 year old get to read their entire life’s history.

In many ways, this puts the general problem of online privacy for all people in sharp relief, simply by highlighting the problem for kids. If participation in social networking is now becoming part of the norm, participation becomes compulsory in many ways. For more on the study, read the report linked below:

Why parents help their children lie to Facebook about age: Unintended consequences of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act’ – Danah Boyd, University of Illinois at Chicago.