All forum administrators come to the point where they need to hire staff. It is a natural part of running a forum, but is also one of the hardest decisions an administrator will make. The hiring of staff is a complicated procedure, with many different aspects which need considering. Age is one of these key factors as it can tell you a lot about a person. It can, however, also be very deceiving and fool you into making decisions you will later regret.
Many people will tell you age is just a number, I probably would too if you asked me. The age of a person will tell you a few things about them though. On forums it is usually a good idea to have a member of staff who knows a few things about common internet conduct. A 12-year-old is unlikely to know these things as they just aren’t old enough to have spent enough time on the internet to pick this up. They are also usually not mentally mature enough to understand common conduct even if it is explained to them. Someone who has been on the internet a few years, such as a 17-year-old, is more likely to know. This however, doesn’t mean they pay any attention to it or care in the slightest.
Another reason to take age into consideration is the fact that the staff member will be interacting with your community. An older person will usually be better at talking to people in a proper manner as they, not only, have a better understanding of vocabulary and grammar, but they also know how to talk to people. Younger people tend to get more emotional, which can cause hot-headed situations which are not good for your staff member or your community.
The age of a person doesn’t tell you how they act. A 12-year-old could easily be mistaken for a 25-year-old on the web, just as a 40-year-old could be mistaken for a 13-year-old. Maturity is usually what most administrators judge when choosing staff. I believe age should still be taken into account, not for maturity, but for life experience. A 12-year-old is at the end of the day only 12; they can impossibly have spent more time online than the average 18-year-old. This means that however mature they are or act, they can’t have the same experience or knowledge that an 18-year-old has of the internet.
Usually, I draw the line at 16 if the person I am interviewing feels mature enough to be able to handle a staff position on my site. Anyone under 16 has spent no more than a maximum of 4-5 years using the internet and it is likely that most of this time has been spent playing games. The playing of games on the internet brings forth a different mentality between gamers and the language and attitudes usually used here are not of a manner which most administrators would want brought into their community. Around the age of 14-15 youths usually discover the internet as a place to communicate with others. Some will begin earlier and these are usually the ones who mature earliest. At 16 they have been communicating with others for a good few years and have had the opportunity to learn how to conduct themselves on the internet.
At the age of 16 a good majority of internet users will not have learnt how to conduct themselves on the internet, but some will have. These are the ones that you can consider hiring as staff for your forum, younger than this you ought to be careful with. After the age of 16 most internet users will have either matured enough for forum communities or found themselves a place which is usually frequented by a younger audience who shares their own mentality. This usually makes it easier when dealing with older members of the community but there is no guarantee. A majority of the members who cause the most problems on forum are well into their twenties if not older.
At the end of the day, it is a case by case situation for an administrator to judge. With so many decisions to make as it is it is a good idea to put an age limit in place that you feel works best for you. 16 is usually a good cut off age and one I would recommend to all forums. There are always exceptions to the rules, such as target audience, but usually what has been mentioned here is more than sufficient.