Protecting children online has been a growing concern since, well, the Internet went mainstream. Predators can easily hide their identities, pretending to be younger and using fake profile pictures. With more than 500 million users worldwide, Facebook is the social network of choice to share photos and information, as well as to connect with people around the world. While it is against Facebook’s policy for children younger than 13 to have accounts, Consumer Reports found that more than 7.5 million do. And, even when a child doesn’t have his or her own account, a study released last year found that 92 percent of U.S. babies have some kind of online presence before age 2.

We asked members of our Public Insight Network to share their thoughts on this issue and whether they approve of the 12-and-younger set having their own Facebook profiles. While the vast majority of respondents said their children 12 and younger did not have Facebook accounts, many said they do post pictures of their kids online. They also said they would post pictures of their friends’ children without asking permission, but had privacy settings in place to protect those they didn’t know from seeing pictures. Only one said his or her son had been contacted by someone he didn’t know after posting his phone number on Facebook.

But let’s hear directly from those in our Public Insight Network. Here are some of the interesting and revealing answers from those raising the next generation of social media users:

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Q: What age was your child when you first posted a picture of him or her?
A: 4-5 months. I actually joined FB to get info and photos of my child that the day care posts to their FB account. They share the calendar, weekly menu, photos and videos on their Facebook account. They only accept parents of the children enrolled as friends.

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Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about this issue?
A: Re: the posting pics of my children – I used to do it a lot more often when she was a baby. Now that she’s older I rarely post pics of her and it has always been limited to the ppl I want to see the pics. As soon as I add a new friend they go into two groups – one that can see my status updates including pics, etc. and the other cannot even see my wall. I will definitely educate my child about the pros and cons of social networking and help her make educated decisions about what she can and cannot do online. Also, I only post pics of other people’s kids if their parents already post pics of their kids on FB. I wouldn’t post pics of other kids if their parents do not post pictures. All my friends do post pics of their kids so I never run into any problems with parents getting upset!

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Q: Are sexual predators something you worry about when it comes to social networking sites?
A: No

Q: Why or why not?
A: In general I am concerned about sexual predators. However, that is an issue with or without social networking. My grandmother was gang-raped by her uncle and some of his friends at the age of 9 – in the 1930s. That certainly predates social networking.

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Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about this issue?
A: My policy with my 10-year-old’s Facebook account is that I know his password, and he is not allowed to “friend” anyone without my permission. Also, his entire profile, even the profile picture is private to anyone that isn’t on his friends list. I would suggest to other parents to have a similar policy if their child is on Facebook. Just like anything else in life, as long as you are involved and interested in what they are doing, you can keep things safe for them.

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Q: Which privacy settings – if any – do you use to limit who can view these photos?
A: Custom setting

Q: Are you OK with children under 13 having their own accounts?
A: No

Q: Are sexual predators something you worry about when it comes to social networking sites?
A: Yes

Q: Why or why not?
A: I worry that the wrong person will become attracted to a child in the photo, so I have recently stopped labeling the photos with my children’s names. I never label other people’s children when they are in the photo. I also changed my privacy settings so that people I don’t know well in real life are blocked from seeing photos other than my very basic profile photos. I don’t provide my address, phone number, or e-mail address on my profile. However, I have an uncommon name, so I’m not that hard to find.

Ashley Alvarado, public engagement manager for California Watch, contributed to this query. Share your thoughts and insights with us. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and join the Center for Investigative Reporting and California Watch on the Public Insight Network.

Meghann Farnsworth

Meghann Farnsworth is the managing director of distribution, operations and engagement for Reveal and The Center for Investigative Reporting. She manages teams dedicated to website production and management, technology, analytics, social media, distribution, newsletters, online and on-the-ground community building, arts collaborations, and youth engagement. She also helps develop and support media partnerships and collaborations for Reveal’s national public radio show and podcast. Previously, Farnsworth was the senior digital media manager at Home Front Communications in Washington, D.C., where she worked in digital media management, interactive development and outreach for nonprofit and government clients. She also served as the associate editor of Forums at PBS NewsHour, where she created interactive online forums that helped increase and engage the NewsHour's online audience. She was an inaugural member of the Online News Association-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, and she has presented at conferences across the country, including SXSW, ONA, the Logan Symposium, the Reynolds Journalism Institute and others. She earned her master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley and undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon. Farnsworth is based at Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.