Today, the average American child gets their first smart phone around age 10 and 39% open a social media account about a year after that. Research shows that around half of all 12-year-olds use one or more social media platform. The surprising part of those statistics isn’t just that such young kids are using social media apps like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. It’s the fact that the minimum age requirement for nearly every social media platform is 13 or older.
Obviously, children are lying about their ages to get on these platforms. It begs the question: when is the right time for children to start using social media? Is it okay for them to log on before their 13th birthday, or should they wait until they are much older?
Why is the age limit 13 years old?
To answer this question, you can look to a law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). The primary goal of COPPA is to safeguard the personal information of children. In essence, it prohibits websites from collecting information from children under the age of 13 without their parent’s consent, and it restricts the kind of marketing that can be done toward these children. It’s very costly for social media companies to comply with this regulation, so they avoid it by setting an age limit of 13 years old on their sites.
If your children are under the age of 13 and they’d like an account, you could offer a compromise. You can set up a joint account so they can follow their friends while you control the privacy settings.
Should children sign up for social media after they are 13 years old?
This is a difficult question to answer. Some kids are relatively responsible at 13 and others can’t even be left home alone yet. It’s important to think about your own children and their unique characteristics when considering if they’re ready for social media at 13.
What social and emotional skills should my children have before logging on?
Digital experts point to the risks, pressure, unpredictability, and emotional intensity of social media. To deal with all of that, your children need to have a few key skills. Each child’s brain develops these skills at slightly different ages. However, children’s brains aren’t fully developed until they reach their mid-twenties. Part of what remains underdeveloped throughout the teenage years is the pre-frontal cortex—the part of the brain involved in judgement and reason.
You’ve probably seen your children’s questionable judgement on display before, and that’s okay; it’s part of learning and growing up. It can become a bigger problem when your children show that lack of good judgement on social media. They might instinctively follow what their friends are doing and post a nude. They might act on their excitement and start chatting with a total stranger. The consequences can be serious, and your children may be so ashamed that they hide their actions from you altogether.
Before introducing social media to your teens, think about the skills and characteristics that will set them up for success online.
- Do they tend to obey the rules, especially those around screen use, at school and at home?
- Do they lie to you or to others?
- Do they have a strong sense of self-confidence, or are they often swayed by others?
- Are they trustworthy?
What social media sites are acceptable for teens?
Social media platforms are quite different from one another, both in the content that’s posted and how the sites market to children. Unfortunately, these platforms don’t come with a rating system and they are all minimally censored. The best advice is to use the platform yourself for a few weeks to get a feel for it, and then decide whether you would you want your children seeing what you’re seeing.