One of the most common questions I get from parents is, "What age should I introduce my kids to social networking?" Quite often this is a difficult question to answer as there are many factors impacting on such a decision. In the 4 years I have been presenting to primary age students, I have identified a massive rise in those who are on 1 or more of the top 10 social networking apps. These include Facebook, Instagram, Musical-ly and Snapchat. So often the argument arises; "Well they are under age, so they should not be on them!" Though I do agree in principal with that statement, in practice, it is far more complicated than that.
Since 2013, I have been gathering statistical information from the primary schools I present to. This is over 25 thousand primary age students (10yrs to 12yrs of age). From 2013 to 2016, the number of year 5 students on these apps has jumped from 15% to 60%. Whilst the number of year 6 students, has jumped from 30% to a massive 80%. Now technically, none of these kids should be using these networks. But they are! It is very easy, to push the onus back onto the parents of such kids to be stronger within the home. But it is not as simple as that. As parents, all of us would have heard, "But everyone is on it!" As such, many parents are conceding defeat and allowing their kids to use at least 1 social networking app. Is this wrong? Many argue "Yes", whilst many argue "No". So I am sure you will understand why I approach this subject with an appropriate level of understanding and consideration.
At the end of the day, the decision is yours as parents. You know your kids better than anyone. It would be naive of me to condemn you for saying yes, but also inappropriate for me to promote the use of such sites for anyone who is under age. If you allow your child to join, discussion must occur regarding the use of the network and every level of caution must be adopted. Strict guidelines must be put in place and regular communication and monitoring is a must. Online footprint and information sharing are subjects that should never be avoided and must be assessed during every visit. This is the strongest message given during any Surf Online Safe presentation.
In the USA, there is legislation which makes it illegal for social media organisations to "market their sites" towards, or to "collect the personal information" of persons under the age of 13. This is the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). Therefore they must protect the users of their sites if they are 12 and under. Many networks deem this as too much hard work! So instead of creating an app that abides by such legislation, the vast majority of social networking organisations will instead add an age restriction of 13 years. As we all know, many kids are joining these networks by circumventing the age restriction. This is where my frustration starts! Instead of the networks putting appropriate levels of security on their apps to avoid this happening, they have simply handballed that pressure back to us as parents.
If your son or daughter is 12 or under and has joined a network, they would have done so by entering a fake date of birth during registration or by failing to abide by the networks terms and conditions. If you or your child have breeched terms and conditions, that is now an out for the owners of that network. We must understand that if our kids are using such networks under the age of 13, they are on their own and will not be protected. The onus of responsibility therefore remains with you and your kids in regard to the use of such sites.
We must truly consider all the aspects in relation to the decision to allow our young kids to join social networking. If you can avoid it, then I would encourage you to continue to avoid it as long as possible. At the end of the day, it is called "social networking" for a reason. These sites are designed for the sole purpose of spreading information in order to make money. Our young kids find it difficult to consistently assess what are safe and unsafe sharing practices. Therefore it is important as parents, we give them a good start in understanding the phenomenon that is social networking. An SOS presentation will help them understand this risk and understand where we as parents are coming from.
Whether users are 10 or 14 years of age, they must use these sites and apps with caution, guidance and understanding. Whether they can do that on their own without your assistance, is ultimately your call.