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Technology: At What Age Should Children Start Using Social Media?

You can't deny it. Today's youth are incredibly techno savvy and wired to be mobile. My 7 year old has a better command of the iPad than most adults do, and my 10 year old knows the ins and outs of Instagram better than one its developers.

But the big questions is, "Does being tech savvy mean children are ready to handle the responsibility of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram?

Most social media sites such as Facebook require that their users meet certain age restrictions. In Facebook's case, the minimum age is 13. Facebook makes it very clear to users when you sign up for the service, "If you are under age 13, please do not attempt to register for Facebook or provide any personal information about yourself to us." However, as the parent of children younger than 13, I can attest to the fact that children younger, and in some cases, much younger, than 13 are using Facebook and other social media platforms. There are ways to slip around the rules. One can create an account and lie about his or her age.

A few months ago, my 10 year old daughter came to me with a request to create a Facebook profile. "All of my friends are doing it, mom." They really know how to get you sometimes, don't they? But let's face it, there's a difference between "all of my friends are getting this type of purse" and "all of my friends are on Facebook". I wasn't anticipating having to make this type of decision so soon in my life. She's 10. Wasn't this question supposed to come in 2 years...or perhaps more?

As someone who works in the field of social media, I like to think that I have a certain level of knowledge and expertise on the topic. I am well-versed on most social media platforms and have a solid understanding of the uses and purposes of those platforms. However, I am not using them as a child would. I do not fall prey to the many dangers that present themselves to children using social media such as:

  • cyberbullying
  • predators
  • phishing scams

But there is also a beneficial aspect of social media that is often overlooked. For many children, social media platforms provide interaction that other generations experienced by hanging out at the mall or a friend's house. In today's busy society, children no longer have the opportunity to hang out at a friend's house after school. Can we agree also that the mall can be a pretty scary place for kids? There's no way I am letting my daughter hang out at the mall when she's 14. A large part of today's generation of children's social and emotional development occurs while on the Internet and/or cell phones. It's a fact of life, and we, as parents, need to understand these technologies so we can relate to our children and understand their world.

What's the solution?

A good rule of thumb is to adhere to the age limitations set by individual social media platforms. They are put in place for a reason, and are there to protect our children. If you do allow a child younger than the age restriction to join a social network, educate yourself and your child on the pitfalls and perils of interaction with strangers. Stay in control your child's privacy settings. Facebook is designed for two age groups: 13-18 year olds, and 18 and above. There is a different set of privacy options for the younger group of users. Take advantage of those privacy settings and help your child set them.

The use of social media can open up a world with new and exciting opportunities for our youth. The daughter of a friend recently used her social media engagement to become involved with a charity that supports victims of Hurricane Sandy. Not only can social media be a tool for interacting with friends, but it can also be a tool for discovering opportunities for community service and volunteering projects.

Use your best judgement. You know your children, and you know the level of responsibility he or she can handle. Our job is to educate and protect.Communication between you and your child is vital to ensuring that your children have positive Internet and social media experiences. Help them strike the balance between fun and safety online without always having to be the POS (parent over shoulder)!

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Comment by Carly Walko on March 17, 2013 at 5:38pm

Ah, I am so glad I don't have to deal with this YET, but I know it is right around the corner...my 3 year old uses my IPAD faster and more efficiently than I do!!! 

Comment by Chrissy Fleming on March 4, 2013 at 1:15pm

This is a great post, Sheila.  I agree with the argument you make about how nowadays, so much of their socialization is "social" through the web, phones, playing games with one another through their devices.  And I agree that if monitored properly by a parent along with the suggestions of the platform itself, I feel that allowing children at the right age to use these platforms is not a bad idea. 

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