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The dirty little secret of social media is that children as young as age 8 are signing up for social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram with the full consent of their parents. That, despite the fact that social media platforms are supposed to be off-limits for children younger than age 13. This sets up the unfortunate situation in which kids can start to receive private messages from adults, or even be exposed to adult content. Obviously, given these risks, parents need to be doing a better job of controlling how, when and where their kids can access social media content.
Parents need to rethink social media usage for their kids
According to Ofcom, the official communications regulator in the UK, nearly 80% of kids aged 8 to 17 have their own account or profile on social media. And, even if kids are not actively using social media, or have not yet signed up for an account, they are being exposed to this content in indirect ways. For example, at school, kids are often talking about online games and viral trends. What happens when they see all the kids around them taking part in social media, and they are not?
Well, they apparently ask their parents to sign them up for accounts, and most parents are all far too willing to do this. According to Ofcom, most kids in the 8-to-12 age cohort probably can’t set up accounts without the help of their parents. So parents are obviously in on it. In some cases, parents are encouraging kids to make outrageous lies at the time of sign-up. As Ofcom notes, some kids are registering as 40- and 50-year-olds.
There are various explanations for why this is happening. One explanation is that parents are not aware of age restrictions for social media, and assume that the big social networks have plenty of safeguards in place to protect kids. But by now, we know this is incredibly naive. Another possible explanation is the “but everyone else is doing it” excuse. Parents talk to other parents, and realize that it’s not going to work if they are the sole holdout when it comes to social media. Even worse, they might be afraid that their kids are somehow “missing out” on something online.
Options for parents
The good news is that, even if parents are unwilling to restrict their kids from using social media entirely, there are still some safeguards they can put into place to reduce the risks. For example, parents can agree with their kids on certain “ground rules” that need to be observed. Maybe kids will be limited to using social media before dinner, so as not to interfere with more important things, like homework or extracurricular activities.
Parents can also look for the parental controls that are available on every social media platform. It may take some effort finding the right boxes to check, but it’s well worth the time investment. Finally, parents can help to teach their kids good habits about social media, such as the need to take regular screen breaks, as well as the proper etiquette for interacting with strangers.
Parents need to take responsibility
When it comes to protecting kids, parents can play a very important role. They certainly can not rely on the big social media platforms to take care of it for them. In the best of all possible worlds, they would restrict social media entirely for any of their kids under age 13. But if this is not possible, they can at least open up a conversation with their kids about the right and wrong ways to use social media, as well as the risks involved.