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As your child comes out of the preteen years and approaches the teen years, you will likely start to get inquiries about when he/she can open up various social media accounts, if you haven’t heard about it earlier than that. The minimum age for most social media sites is 13 according to each platform’s rules. Despite that, many, many children sign up earlier than that, using a fake birthday to create an account.
Brayden is coming up on 12 and recently inquired about social media. Would he get accounts on some of these social media sites when he turned 12? A lot of people at school are getting them as they turn 12 (which I know is true because they follow me on Instagram. Many even started younger than 12). His upcoming birthday has led me to do some researching, digging, and pondering on the topic. While I am not yet at a solid stance, I have come to enough awareness that I want to shed some insight to the topic sooner rather than later so you can also be pondering for your children. I will no doubt write on this topic frequently over the years as we navigate these waters.
The reality is that we are yet to have a generation who has lived through the social media world be able to tell us, verbally or statistically, what is and isn’t a good idea. We don’t have wise grandmothers to turn to to glean advice from on how to handle the social media beast. We are pioneers on this front. Pioneers build strong foundations for future generations, and we must do the same with social media.
We do have experiences of some to look to. And we do have opinions of people, like law enforcement, who deal with the potential ramifications of social media issues on a daily basis. Here is what I have found so far.
Let’s say at this point you are dead set on your child getting social media as a child and want to know the best age to do so. Your child must be at least 13. Don’t do it younger than 13. At least wait until your child is 13 to set up social media accounts. This post dose a great job talking about some reasons why. In summary:
- COPPA: The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act protects children under the age of 13. If your child signs up under the age of 13, but had to lie about his/her age to do so, your child is no longer protected by that act.
- Brain Development: “Research shows that it takes children about 12 years to fully develop the cognitive structures that enable them to engage in ethical thinking.” This is a point I have come across time and time again when researching this topic. Honestly, age 13 doesn’t go far enough for me. Do we all not remember what it was like to be a teenager? The stupid things that were done? Even beyond 14: “There is also biology to consider. The prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that controls impulse, finishes developing in the mid-20s. In other words, parents should not be surprised if younger children with smartphones lack impulse control.” (What’s the Right Age for a Child to Get a Smartphone?)
- Lying: If you help your child set up a social media account under the age of 13, you have to lie to do so, and you are teaching your child that’s okay. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to start my child’s social media life off with a “lying is sometimes okay” undertone.
I also enjoyed this article from the New York Times.
“The takeaway will not please smartphone makers: The longer you wait to give your children a smartphone, the better. Some experts said 12 was the ideal age, while others said 14. All agreed later was safer because smartphones can be addictive distractions that detract from schoolwork while exposing children to issues like online bullies, child predators or sexting.
“The longer you keep Pandora’s box shut, the better off you are,” said Jesse Weinberger, an internet safety speaker based in Ohio who gives presentations to parents, schools and law enforcement officials. “There’s no connection to the dark side without the device.””
BUT…EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT
Age old issue. What did we used to hear from our parents? “If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you?”
Our parents asked us that. As teenagers, we often wanted to jump off the cliff to fit in. And now, as parents, we are sending our children to jump off the cliffs because everyone else is doing it. Instead of stepping back an asking our children why they think they need to follow the crowd like our parents did, we are worried about our children being left out of the crowd.
Stay away from the cliff. Wait until your child is 13.
And then, carefully consider if you want to allow it past then.
I am glad that I have some more time to ponder this topic before Brayden hits 13. I had thought the magic age was 12, but now that it is 13, I still have some more time. But as I think, here are some points that have been brought to my attention.
- Social media is causing real problems. I don’t think it was by accident that just over a week ago, I was talking with a good friend who works at our emergency dispatch location (she takes 9-1-1 phone calls). She isn’t allowed to talk about any details on calls she gets. That day, there was a hearing for a call she had taken. A call where a 14 year old girl was shot in the head by 16 year old boy and his friend. Why? So far, the reason given by the shooter is he was tired of her Snapchatting him so much.My friend was understandably emotional that day as we visited. It is a hard case for her as a parent to be involved in. She shared that based on several calls she has taken over the last several months, she took her two teen daughters’ social media accounts away. Fully gone. She agonized over the prospect of doing it for a while before actually doing it. She talked with a detective who strongly recommended she take the social media away. Based on what he is seeing, he said he wishes he could tell all parents to do the same.
An interesting part to this story for me is that her two daughters didn’t even care that social media was taken away. In fact, she said her older daughter seemed relieved and in the weeks since, has been happier than ever.
This shooting story is just one story that is local where I am. I would guess many, if not most, of you can think of a similar tragic story in your area in the last few years.
- Children need a break from the drama. When we were kids, we had a safe place, called home. With social media, home isn’t a safe place anymore. No where is. Everywhere you to, your life can be penetrated. There is no break. I read, and shared on Facebook, this interesting article where the father explained they won’t let their son have a smartphone because they want him to have a break. “I want you to be free from middle school drama when you’re at home. Of course, our son thinks the phone represents a new rung on the ladder, the next step toward the freedom of adulthood. We think the phone, at his age, is a step down into slavery. It traps kids, just like it can trap adults, into the social game of likes and comments and never-ending comparisons.” I have adult friends who can’t handle these things–worrying about likes and comparing themselves to others. Some have removed themselves from social media as a result. Others suffer through the insecurities brought on by social media.
- Even adults often can’t handle the drama. Sometimes it feels like social media has reintroduced the high school culture into our lives. Remember when we left high school and grew up? I know not all of you young mothers were really able to do that unless you don’t use social media. But those of us who are older or don’t use social media left high school drama once. We put the drama behind us and gained some powerful perspective on life. Look, I loved high school. Fully. I wouldn’t even mind repeating it. I had a great time and some of my favorite days each year are the days I get together with my high school friends. However, there was DRAMA in high school! Anyone like me who graduated before social media existed was able to put that behind us. Social media is definitely a way drama has been reintroduced into the lives of adults. Some adults can’t handle it. They post things they shouldn’t, they overshare, they get their feelings hurt, and they call out people. If adults act like they do on social media, you better believe teenagers step it up beyond that.
- Dangers of sexting, pornography, and predators are real. Those all exist. Those are there and always will be. Are teenagers smart enough to avoid those things? Obviously not all. Again, let’s step back and remember what it was like to be a teenager. Teenagers tend to think they are indestructible in every way. Even people who were overall very mature, responsible teenagers can look back on teen years and think of at least one event where they recognize that act or decision was really stupid. The dangers of sexting, pornography, and predators are all very real, but that doesn’t mean our teens will believe the dangers are real to them.
- Children need to learn to communicate “the old fashioned way.” Yes, a lot of communication can and does happen over social media or texting in our modern world. However, in the real world, there is still a lot of communication that needs to happen face to face or voice to voice. More and more people are uncomfortable with people trying to talk to them in person or call them on the phone. We still live in a society where communication skills are important, however. When I was in high school and college, communication skills were number one for employers when looking for an employee. It is still high if not number one today. According to this New York Times article, “James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews content and products for families, has a strict rule for his family: His children get a smartphone only when they start high school — after they have learned restraint and the value of face-to-face communication.”
BUT…I HAVE GOOD ARGUMENTS FOR SOCIAL MEDIA
Above you find all of my concerns with social media. The more I have researched it, the longer my list of concerns has grown. Now, I am a blogger. As such, I personally have a lot of social media accounts. I also actually think social media can be used for a lot of good. It has its major benefits to life! We are able to connect with people and stay in touch with relatives who live far from us. We are able to find and share great ideas and life hacks with each other. We are able to find like-minded parents and parents going through similar life situations. We can be inspired and uplifted. I personally love social media. My knee-jerk is to let my kids get on it and love the benefits!
On the major flip side at our house, my husband does not have one single social media account. Not one. He isn’t against them in general, he just has no interest in it.
As I first started pondering this topic, I thought, “Social media is a prevalent part of life in our modern world. Shouldn’t we let children use it so we can teach them how to use it correctly? Won’t they be behind if they don’t use it and all of their friends are? Won’t they feel and even be left out of things without social media? And doesn’t drama come home either way? Might as well bring the drama home and not let them be left out.”
I would imagine many of you have had similar veins of thought as you have read thus far. Here are some of my refutations to myself.
Social media is prevalent, yes. However, there are a lot of things in life that are prevalent that we don’t allow children to do until they are considered old enough to handle it. Let’s take driving a car. Most adults drive cars, just like most adults have social media accounts. Does that mean our elementary-aged children need to be driving cars? No. Laws vary from state to state for when teenagers can legally drive, but they all manage to learn to drive as a teenager and still function in society as an adult. I would guess we could safely assume a child can also wait to learn social media as an older teenager or even adult and function just fine. In fact, I have only been on social media for 9 years! This month is my 9 year anniversary of joining social media. That means I was in my mid-twenties when I first started learning.
Not being on social media can definitely leave you feeling or even being left out. Will my kids be the odd ones out if they aren’t on social media pretty much ASAP? Possibly. They might feel like the only ones in the world without social media accounts. I refuse to parent based on what is the status quo, however. I am their parent. It is my job to do what is best for them no matter what all the other parents are doing.
I have a handful of friends who are not on social media at all. There is a lot we plan as friends on social media because it is easy and convenient. Guess what we do, though, because we are nice friends? We make sure we contact our non-social media friends so they know about our girls’ nights and park days. They might not be privy to every conversation that happens on social media, but I don’t feel less close to those friends because of it. My children can ask any friends they are close to who are on social media to tell them about events they need to know about that are discussed and planned on social media if that becomes an issue.
As far as drama goes, yes, your teenage child will bring drama home with him/her at some point. For sure. If there is no social media to continue to fuel that drama, however, there can be a break and a recharging time. There can be time to reflect, take a step back, and try to get in a good mental space. There is time to think about what really matters, to hash things out with mom or dad, and gain some perspective on the situation. There can be solace at home. There can be refuge. The drama can dissipate.
I am not at a full conclusion yet with my thoughts on social media for my children. I don’t have a planned set age. I am still gathering insight and wisdom into the whole matter. My husband and I will talk it out and pray about what we think is best. Some day, I am sure I will have wisdom to pass on to you based on life experience. As it is right now, I am trying to best set my oldest up for a positive experience. I am trying to be an adult and parent based on what is right for each of my children. I am not trying to be his best buddy. I am his parent first. He only has two parents and needs us to act like parents.
You can bet he will not get social media until age 13 at the youngest. That much is sure. I still have time to ponder the topic beyond that date. We will decide from there based on what we feel is best, and what we feel is right as his parents.