Is Social Media Safe for Kids?

Social Media and Kids

My 11 year old daughter came up to me the other day, asking to have an Instagram account. She said “all” her friends had one. While I didn’t believe that, I told her I’d look into the policies and see how safe it was for kids. After a few more times of PLEASE Mom, I finally looked it up and discovered that #1 on Instagram’s terms of use states that “You must be at least 13 years old to use the Service.” I showed her that rule and then had to stand my Mom Ground and tell her no, not yet. Despite her pleadings and “you are the strictest mom around”, I’m not going to cave in. She knows that and finally gave up after one round of “pretty please.”

I thought I’d better stem off the wave of questions sure to come about the other social media sites and find out the minimum age for them as well and what the recommendations are for kids using social media. Sure enough, all the social media apps and websites have a minimum age requirement of 13 years old–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and various others. Also, between 13-17 years old is supposed to be with parent’s permission.

social-media-age-restrictions

Why does it matter if my child isn’t 13 yet? Is it just about the companies not wanting to break the law regarding collecting information about children online? Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act That’s likely the primary reason for their policies, but there’s some other compelling reasons that it’s a good idea to have kids wait until they are a little older and more mature to be a part of social media culture.

1. Kids younger than teens haven’t finished their cognitive development yet. It’s at around age 12 that they begin to develop abstract reasoning skills and can begin thinking more logically. They get better at seeing another person’s point of view, understanding consequences for their actions, and can empathize more fully with others feelings. They have a better understanding of the world around them and what’s appropriate to share and are more aware of the potential dangers online. Kids aren’t fully capable of reasoning as an adult until about age 15 and brain development continues until late adolescence or early adulthood (for boys). childdevelopmentinfo.com

2. Even seemingly harmless apps like Instagram have social networking. Before I looked into it, I thought Instagram was just about taking and sharing photos with friends. However, kids can post status updates and share personal information like any other social network. They can follow and be followed by hundreds of people they don’t know. The default setting shares photos with anyone, so unless you change this setting, your profile and photos are public. There is Geo-location available that can tell other users where your photo was taken. Yoursphere.com reports, “While there are tools for reporting/blocking users and inappropriate content, know that people will, and do upload nude photos. In fact, the editorial team found a multitude of bestiality photos in less than one minute when searching for friends. It’s a sad fact, and another commonsense reason that you shouldn’t allow your children to use Instagram.”

One commenter on Yoursphere.com said about her 12 year old daughter using Instagram, “She is not allowed to have a Facebook account until high school to avoid bullying issues, but due to my lack of knowledge (I thought Instagram was basically a glorified camera), I allowed her to have an account. In the last week, she has been indirectly contacted by what appears to be a predatorial pedophile posing as a radio contest to which girls send their photos. And she also experienced the middle school drama that I was trying to avoid by the lack of a Facebook account.”

3. It encourages kids to “network” with their friends at school, on the phone, and in person. I want my kids to learn important social skills on the phone and in person before they start hiding behind their screens. I want them to understand the importance of engaging with the people around you and putting away the cell phone or ipad when doing something with friends and family.

4. Even little white lies can send the wrong message to kids. I don’t want my kids seeing me fudge their age in order to let them have a facebook or instagram account because I don’t want them thinking that it’s ok to lie whenever we feel like it or because we think the rules are dumb.

5. They grow up fast enough. I remember when my now 16 year old wanted a Facebook account a few years ago when she was 11. I told her not until she was 13, and though she wasn’t happy at first, she realized it wasn’t a big deal and got over it. Time passed quickly and it became one of her “rights of passage” when she became a teenager. While she was ready for social media at that age (with parental supervision), it’s important to not only base the decision on age, since maturity levels can develop at different rates and not all kids are ready at 13 either.

6. I don’t want peer pressure from friends to be the only reason my kids want to be on social media. My middle daughter, who’s now 14, could care less about social media and she’s mature enough not to care if her friends pressure her about it. My 11 year old, on the other hand, struggles more with peer pressure and simply wants an account because some of her friends have one. She doesn’t really understand the full purposes of social media or what she would do with it.

When my 11 year old is ready for social media, we’ll have a chat about our family rules, reminding her of appropriate online behavior, safety and privacy rules, time limits, and cyber-bullying.

Sources

Common Sense Media

10 Things Parents Should Know About the Snapchat App

What Parents Need to Know about Instagram

How Instagram Became the Social Network for Tweens

Title Photo courtesy of mkhmarketing.wordpress.com

2 thoughts on “Is Social Media Safe for Kids?

  1. Thanks for putting together your research and sharing it. My oldest is 9, and a few of his friends are starting to get smartphones (!) I worry about what he’ll see on his friends’ phones when I’m not close by. One of my friends with older kids made a parent-child contract when they opened an instagram account. I definitely see contracts in my future. I’m so glad you linked this post up with #EverythingKids.

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