The age that children are starting their own social media accounts is getting lower every year. According to a report by Common Sense Media from 2016, around 56% of children aged 8 to 18 had their own accounts based on the parents responses to a survey. The report also showed that the average age for signing up for an account was 12.6 years and 80% of teenagers aged 13-18 had an account on a social media site.
But is this to young to have a social media presence? We’re all aware of the dangers children can face online. And what about our children’s privacy, as well as their mental and emotional wellbeing? According to Vivian Friedman, a child psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, children aged 6 to 12 tend to think in concrete ways, whereas between the ages of 12 and 18, young people start to think more abstractly.
She adds that some children under 12 might not be able to fully “analyze the truth or validity of abstract issues” on social media sites. She noted: “I think that the best way to do it is to sit down together and explore the program that your kid is interested in using — and explore some of the privacy settings that they can use.”
“Then it’s important for parents and kids to talk about what is appropriate to put up and what is not appropriate. I do think around 12 years old is when kids have that capability to follow your rules and to understand that those rules are really important and set in place to help protect their safety.”
Laws vary depending on different sites, as well as which country the child is is. In the US, the law allows parents to control the information websites can collect from their children under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This means that children under 13 cannot have their data collected without consent from a parent. Facebook, for example, says on its page that it “requires everyone to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account. … Creating an account with false info is a violation of our terms.”
In the interests of safety, it’s always recommended that parents know what website their children are using, and have open discussions with them about social media. It’s also recommended that young kids don’t sleep with devices in their bedrooms, don’t use them during family meals and ideally switch them off an hour before bedtime.