First the Smartphone. Now Social Media. Help!

You’ve agonised over the right time to give your child a phone and taken the plunge. Following closely behind this comes the inevitable request to allow them to sign up for social media accounts, such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook before the minimum age of 13.

For many parents, this is approached with trepidation with media, and anecdotal and personal experiences generating concern about issues such as hurtful posts, cyberbullying, privacy and the ease at which sexualised content can be accessed. 

It’s sometimes easy to miss the positive stories about the majority of teens who use social media respectfully, responsibly, safely and love being connected to their friends in these digital playgrounds.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat appeal to people of almost every age category. What this means is that these sites are not uniquely tailored to meet the needs of any specific demographic: they aren’t necessarily ‘kid friendly’. 

When an app is made with a specific demographic in mind, the rules are much more clear-cut. If an app is intended for children under the age of 13, the app creators will view it as their responsibility to make it as safe as possible for children: there should be no unmoderated chat functionality, no public location sharing, and no inappropriate content (e.g. gambling) being promoted within the app. 

According to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, “both the physical age of your child and their level of maturity and resilience can impact their ability to handle social media, but as a rule, each social networking site and app has its own criteria for minimum age requirements. Some services cater to more adult audiences (i.e. dating sites).” 

Another reason that many social media sites have a 13-year age requirement is to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), which “prevents collection and storage of personal information from children under 13 years of age”.

Before letting children set up social media accounts the eSafety Commissioner encourages parents to reflect on the following:

  • Is your child able to withstand negative online experiences?
  • Does your child understand the importance of protecting their personal information?
  • Does your child understand how privacy settings for social media work?
  • Does your child understand what is safe to share online?
  • Does your child know how to report cyberbullying and other kinds of abusive content?
  • Is your child willing to let you establish clear rules and supervise their social media activity?

For further advice about each of these questions visit the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. Are They Old Enough?

Social media can be used to drag people down, but it can also be used to lift people up. The key to keeping children safe on social media is, therefore, to encourage, educate, and empower them to do the latter. Because, when used safely and constructively, social media can be an incredible asset to young people as they begin to learn about the world and their place within it. 

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