Resources for online video calls can appear fairly ambiguous about recommendations or restrictions relating to age limits. Typically they may set a minimum age for a child to register a personal account, but may permit their use by children if an account or a call has been set up by an adult. Some of the most commonly used resources are:
- Zoom – users must be at least 16 years old to have a Zoom account, although there is a version called Zoom for Education which allows younger users to join (from the age of 3 upwards).
- Google Meet – there is an age limit of 13+ to sign up for a personal account, but there is no minimum age when accounts are managed by a school.
- Houseparty – users must be at least 12 to register an account and use the service; from current statistics, 60% of users are under the age of 24. This app requires handing over intrusive data for it’s use such as location settings and access to a user’s personal contacts list. It also allows users to “lock” rooms, making it difficult to supervise or intervene if malpractices are taking place.
- Microsoft Teams – there is no minimum age for use. Although primarily used in workplace or educational settings, if not carefully managed this does still allow children to communicate with strangers, and shares profile information during social interactions.
- Facetime – Minimum age of 13 to set up an account, but no minimum age for use. No one but the sender and recipient can access calls, unless invited in by one of the recipients. Connections can only be made with people from one of the users’ contacts books. In short, simply like a telephone call where the person you are speaking with can be seen.
- Skype – Minimum age of 13, and only intended to be used by younger children when being directly supervised by an adult. Although user data is collected by Microsoft, it is not shared with other users. Similar to Facetime in offering a direct “video telephone call” between private users.
When using online video call resources, the most important things for adults to be attentive to are
1. Adult supervision – know who your children are talking to
2. Secure meetings – password protected (or invited users), not accessible to strangers
3. Host control – visitors can only be let in by the person hosting the meeting
4. Be careful what you share – remind children that these calls can be recorded without you knowing, so never say or do anything which you would be embarrassed for others to hear
5. Personal profile – do not attach any details of your child to an account used to set up the call
6. Tell an adult – children need to be well versed in notifying an adult immediately if anything they are uncomfortable about anything that occurs, and must understand that they will not get in trouble for reporting it
This BBC video clip gives a useful summary of how to keep online video calls safe: