The fact of the matter is, when most parents of young children today were growing up, social media was not as hugely prevalent as it is today if it existed at all. A lot of us even remember the days of being pen pals, sending paper letters with actual stamps.
Now you can accomplish the same idea by “friending” or “following” someone on social media. The fact remains that these platforms are a huge part of daily life for everyone. However, the question is, how young is too young for social media?
While most social media platforms require that members are of a certain age, that doesn’t always mean that the child is really ready for what the world of social media has to offer. For example, Snapchat requires that users be at least 13 years old, but are 13 years olds ready for Snapchat?
The question to ask yourself is about your child specifically. You can assess whether you think your child is mature enough to handle it, and of course, you can continually assess the situation and monitor what they are doing on these social media sites.
A lot of research has been done to try to understand when the right time is for social media. It can be compared to the debate of when to allow a child to have their first cell phone. The two are actually pretty intertwined.
The latest data shows that children below the age of 11 absolutely should not have any social media access, as it is not good for their behaviors or brains.
A recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior shows that for the 750 middle schoolers in the Northeastern US, a majority of them who joined social media under the age of 10 had many problems.
The study showed that students spent extended amounts of time visiting websites that were not approved for them to visit. They also showed “unsympathetic online behaviors,” and were more likely to be bullied and or harassed online.
Similar to Snapchat, other social media giants like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook require that users are 13 years old to join, but it is pretty obvious to fake this information.
The study’s lead author Linda Charmaraman, PhD, who is also director of the Youth, Media, and Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) shared: “Social media sites all require a minimum age of 13 to register, but the reality is that many users are younger than that: one-third of our sample had already started using social media at age 11 or 12 and another one-third had begun at age 10 or younger.”
Dr. Charmaraman continued: “This study helps us understand the risks and benefits for kids and tweens, so that parents and policymakers can make decisions that prioritize their wellbeing.”
She also shared that there were some positive findings in the research. Kinds on social media had a tendency to engage in more positive behaviors than negative.
According to Dr. Charmaraman, “These findings suggest that the industry-based age minimum of 13 for social media users may potentially be a good standard, if it can be enforced. The findings also suggest that a potential strategy to support families with children, tweens, and teens is to a) keep track of social media sites joined and online friend networks; b) set even one rule about screen use (i.e., limiting duration on school nights); and c) monitor children’s frequency of checking, particularly if they’re using social media at age 10 and younger.”